&pizza Slated to Open in Famed Harvard Square Space

&pizzaPhoto: &pizza on Facebook (facebook.com/likeandpizza).

But some residents have expressed concern about the D.C.-based pizzeria’s plans.

On Tuesday evening, in a Cambridge Savings Bank location off of JFK street, the founder of the D.C.-based pizzeria &pizza shared his company’s mission with a room full of residents.Thirty-five year old Michael Lastoria started his pizza shop five years ago with nothing but “a dollar and a dream,” and today, there are more than 20 &pizza locations along the East Coast, from New York to Virginia. Lastoria says his company strives for sustainability in its supply chain, emphasizes using non-GMO, organic ingredients and is serious local community involvement and providing an hourly worker compensation that’s at least two or three dollars above minimum wage. He envisions &pizza as a gathering place for customers of all backgrounds and demographics. A calm and clear speaker, Lastoria is adamant that when it comes to their Boston flagship in Harvard Square: “We are here for the long haul.” He has his eye on staying in Cambridge for at least 10 or 15 years.

On the surface, the &pizza story would appear to make it a shoo-in for success in Cambridge. But the audience listening to Lastoria’s presentation responded with mixed feelings—not necessarily because of the shop’s ethos, but because of its location in the soon-to-be former home of The Crimson Corner newsstand. Others expressed concern that the location would be too large, as &pizza is also slated to take over the adjacent storefront, which formerly housed Tory Row.

Many questioned why &pizza couldn’t fill another vacant space in the square. Others asked why Harvard needs another pizza place at all; the exact number of existing shops was debated, but the audience eventually agreed that there are at least five.

In the end—much like the controversy surrounding the redevelopment plans of the Abbott Building, which would displace the Curious George Store—community concern over the appropriateness of &pizza reflects a larger set of worries surrounding the skyrocketing commercial rents in Harvard Square and the ongoing cultural shift away from independent, non-franchise, quirky and affordable stores and eateries in the square.

Still, as one member commented as the meeting drew to a close, &pizza could be a far more attractive community member than one of the truly multi-national chains that have been vying for the space.

Whether &pizza can follow the path of Au Bon Pan—which was protested when it first arrived in the square in 1984 and mourned by the time it shuttered 32 years later—remains to be seen; a follow-up meeting with Lastoria is scheduled for April 19, and the zoning review process is ongoing.