Employment and Jobs

Job Quality as the Cornerstone: A Conversation with &pizza’s Michael Lastoria

September 29, 2023  • Maureen Conway, Michael Lastoria & Frances Almodovar

Photo of Michael Lastoria

Michael Lastoria’s journey with &pizza began with a dual goal: not just financial success, but also community impact. Growing up in a rural area, he understood the significance of fair wages and worker unity — the latter of which is symbolized in the company’s trademark ampersand (&). Although Lastoria lacked experience in the pizza industry,  he was motivated to enter the market by its potential for influence. The universal appeal of pizza, coupled with its scalability, made it the perfect choice for a business focused on job quality, considering that the food service industry employs a large number of people and ranks poorly in terms of offering quality jobs. Starting from a single New York art studio, &pizza has expanded to 65 locations from New York to Virginia, a testament to Lastoria’s vision of a business that supported its workforce and prospered.

In March, Lastoria sat down with Maureen Conway — vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program — to share insights into the driving factors behind this journey. In this interview, he highlights the importance of staying true to the founding principles and values that led to &pizza’s success in the first place. He acknowledges the complexities that can arise when a business transitions between generations but spotlights the significance of authenticity. The key to sustainable growth, he notes, lies in prioritizing long-term sustainability over short-term profit, all while ensuring worker well-being remains a top priority.

For instance, Lastoria’s commitment to fair wages and worker unity aligns with the principles of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938, which established federal standards for minimum wage and working conditions, emphasizing “a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” This connection to FLSA principles reinforces the importance of treating employees fairly, as Lastoria discussed at our recent event, “The Rewards of Work: Lessons from the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Even during the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, &pizza maintained its focus on taking care of employees, ensuring they received consistent pay and job security as part of its dedication to job quality. He talks about the correlation between treating the workforce well and the company’s success, highlighting that they don’t entertain discussions about cutting wages. Furthermore, Lastoria explains how the company empowers employees to actively shape company decisions, emphasizing the positive impact of including and valuing the perspectives of the workforce.

One of the areas where employees have latitude to exercise this autonomy is in scheduling. When asked about the company’s approach to scheduling software and its impact on workers, Lastoria explains that focusing on guaranteed hours and providing schedules further in advance ensures a more positive worker experience. And this predictability helps business owners as well, as they’re able to maintain consistent staffing levels even in the face of unpredictable factors like extreme weather or unexpected sales spikes.

Lastoria also explores the future of technology at &pizza, with a keen focus on how it might affect employees’ quality of work. He stresses the importance of automating tasks that don’t require critical thinking, freeing up employees to focus on enhancing the customer experience. He cites the example of automating floor mopping, which allows employees to engage personally with customers and provide the essential human touches that set &pizza apart. Unlike technology, people are not a cost to be minimized, and Lastoria rejects the notion of treating labor as a commodity. Rather, he highlights the importance of valuing and repurposing workers to create a better overall experience, maintaining a high standard of job quality.

This discussion emphasizes the enduring significance of treating employees well and investing in their well-being. By doing so, businesses can create a strong foundation for sustainable practices, ultimately resulting in better job quality, fairness, stability, and progress. Lastoria’s journey with &pizza exemplifies how a steadfast commitment to fair wages, worker unity, and authentic values can lead to both stronger businesses and better jobs. It serves as a compelling case study of how prioritizing job quality can contribute to a company’s growth and resilience. In an ever-evolving business landscape, Lastoria’s experiences highlight the enduring value of placing job quality at the forefront of corporate decision-making.

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Related Resources
  • Statement on Good Jobs. The Statement on Good Jobs puts forth an evidence-based, shared definition of job quality, which has now been endorsed by hundreds of leaders in business, labor, workforce development, and policy. We encourage you to read and sign on behalf of your organization, as well.
  • Job Quality Tools Library. The Job Quality Tools Library offers tools, resources, and guidance to help leaders adopt practices to strengthen job quality in their own organizations, in the businesses they partner with, and across labor markets.
  • Job Quality Center of Excellence. The Job Quality Center of Excellence offers exemplars, practical tools, inclusive conversations, and research/resources to drive improved job quality and economic dignity for workers.

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