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During the design process for Macintosh circuit boards, Steve Jobs said:

“I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it’s inside the box. A great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.”

Years later in an interview about the Macintosh, he also said:

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Jobs’ perfection for design was apparent not only for the computer itself, but also for the box that would contain it. Even though the box was going to be thrown in the trash after the consumer opened it, Jobs and the Mac team went through dozens of iterations to perfect the packaging.

Inside and out, designed mattered.

I never thought I’d think of that at a pizza joint.

Fewer things in life are as uneventful as pizza boxes. Most are square or are versions of rectangles. Color schemes and patterns are not inherent, only used to distinguish one box from that of a competitor. Even more so than a personal computer, a pizza box almost evaporates after it is opened, an afterthought that rarely ever rivals its contents. College dorm rooms do not judge pizzas by the boxes; it’s what’s inside that counts.

But people do judge books by their covers.

& Pizza’s new box design is not particularly breathtaking. In fact, I prefer the company’s previous version – clear, simple, spacious, yet bold. The shape of the box was oddly addictive, an elongated rectangle that looks as if it should house a keyboard, not a freshly baked gourmet pie. Not only that, they company created an advertising campaign of sorts using its name – “You & Pizza,” “Love & Pizza.”

The new design maintains the rectangular shape, but all else has changed. Retaining its black and white theme, black lines run through jaggedly. Angular yet not intrusive. The “&” symbol is centerfold, yet not as profound, being at the epicenter of the stripe orgy. The great disappointment, however, is the “Dupont South Now Open” advertisement. Where the company’s first box impressed with simplicity, shout outs to a new store are the ultimate blemish. No more clarity, simplicity.

But why am I writing about this box. Why am I daringly quoting Steve Jobs at the head of this piece.

Because someone gave a shit to design a pizza box. Someone decided to put thought into a pizza box, to spend time and resources. Someone cared. About the box.

My reality has not been distorted. For a pizza company, the content – a.k.a. the pizza – matters most, and & Pizza makes tasty pies. But what sets the company apart from a number of would-be competitors is its attention to detail. The willingness to consider the subtleties of the pizza-eating experience is under appreciated. The experience starts in the line, with the menu, with the counter tops, with the stools and chairs. From start to finish, you are eating a brand.

You eat the box as much as the pizza itself.

Design matters.

When Henry Ford first introduced the Model T automobile, he famously said, “You can have it in any color, as long as it’s black.” (Or something like that.) Customization, and more importantly individualization, was not in the picture, due to cost considerations and other factors. But there is more to this Model T phenomenon than the extra marginal buck for painting one out of ten cars red instead of black.

Ford gripped an era in which commonality was celebrated above abnormality. It is somewhat ironic that the innovative breakthrough known as the mass assembly line was really nothing more than a rubber stamp mass-producing identical icons. Iconic yet identical.

It worked for Ford. But if he was in the food business in the year 2014, he would have failed, miserably.

& Pizza is an assembly line of sorts, a line long enough on most weekdays that it tails out the front door and down the sidewalks of the District. If your patience awards you, your eyes will be glued to the array of “pre-determined” pizza creations listed on the menu or the mounds of sausage, meatballs, fresh mozzarella, onions, capers, fresh basil (and on and on and on…) at the heart of the assembly line, just before the salamander oven.

There are many things I can say about the quality of the food at & Pizza, but I will say just three things.

First, the dough and crust are excellent. Whatever they’re doing to the dough is working, and even the “multi-grain” option is decent. The dough, which is kneaded on the spot, travels slowly through the heat treatment expo until it emerges on the other side perfectly crispy and soft-chewy at the same time. Thin-crust, all the way.

Second, the spicy tomato sauce is sweaty-good. The tomato sauce makes or breaks any pizza, and & Pizza’s spicy variety is a must-have. You won’t feel the heat during the first couple pieces, but by the third and fourth, sweet fumes will start coming up from deep within, provoking beads of sweat to form on your forehead. And you’ll know you’re enjoying it.

Third, the runny egg. I get excited when I see fried eggs in a burger (okay, so maybe everyone’s doing it now…but it’s still good). The Farmer’s Daughter pizza (pictured in this post) features two eggs, with two options – cooked through or “runny.” I opted for runny, and this is what happened. Crack one egg, place on one end of pizza. Crack another egg, place on the other end of pizza. Send through oven. What comes out are slightly torched yolks, just runny enough to trickle down the pizza like a second sauce bonding with the spicy tomato sauce.

Sure, & Pizza has almost reached hype-status here in the District. It’s not too difficult to see at least a handful of folks walking around with the rectangular black and white box during the lunch hour.

But there’s good reason for this hype. The current culinary clash is (1) I am the star chef, here is my creation, you will eat it and like it and lick my feet, versus (2) here is what we have, how can we put it together for your taste buds.

It will be interesting to see how far this “individualization of food” movement carries. Fresh ingredients, abundance of choices and options, and reasonable price ($8-9 range for most & Pizza creations) are things that power joints like & Pizza. The Henry Fords of food are waning, and in their place, runny eggs will rise.

As they say, it’s “You & Pizza.” Just that.

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