Walking through the glass doors of &pizza last Friday afternoon, my senses immediately went into overload. My eyes had to adjust to the electronic menu flashing through different screens and high–contrast black–and–white color palette, while my ears were overwhelmed by the loud music and general bustle behind the counter. The line was long and equally frenetic, with one worker sometimes making four pizzas at once, bouncing between customers as they garnished their pizzas with the toppings of their choosing.
When I returned 12 hours later, I was greeted by an almost unchanged scene: a line of hungry people and pounding pop music. I didn’t feel as though I’d walked into a late–night joint in quite the same way as I do whenever I frequent other popular post–game spots, which are often desolate during waking hours. &pizza is popular around the clock and it is easy to see why. With customizable slices and a convenient location, it has quickly become a Penn favorite. But the features that are so appealing in the daytime come with complications when inebriated.
Ordering &pizza drunk is no easy feat, I gathered, both from watching other customers that night and from reflecting on my own experience from an earlier visit. Though my memory of the transaction is a bit foggy, I distinctly remember gesticulating aggressively at the bins of broccoli and spinach and repeating maybe half a dozen times that under no circumstances did I want cheese of any sort on my pizza (the vegan in me becomes extra–zealous when intoxicated, as most drunk foods tend to be off–limits). The process was taxing—answering questions, making in–the–moment decisions about toppings, and waiting in anticipation as my creation slowly moved through the oven’s conveyor belt. And it was just as frustrating for the &pizza staff who had to deal with these drunk students. At around 2:30 a.m., I watched a girl stand in front of the glass ingredient case, a glazed expression on her face, clearly unaware of the worker who had asked her now three times if she wanted goat cheese on her pizza.
The space, rather than a typical late–night hangout spot to decompress after a night out, is more of a continuation of the party. Instead of comfy booths, the high tables with metal barstools allow big groups to stand together even if there aren't enough seats and intermingle with strangers. The lights are fluorescent and the speakers continue to blast EDM remixes of pop songs, which keeps customers feeling lively and awake. It is a different vibe from most late night food spots on campus.
Not a single person I spoke to during my four–hour stay was a freshman. I suppose, this makes sense. Tucked into one of the storefronts on the street level of the Radian, &pizza is a hike for students living in the Quad or other freshman housing. Most upperclassmen, on the other hand, live within two or three blocks of the place. I talked to second–year Penn Dental students, a group of seniors, and a couple who wouldn’t identify themselves beyond saying they were “not undergraduates."
And when it comes to working there? Despite dealing with drunk students and having to work till 3 a.m. some nights, the employees seem to love it. “It’s fucking lit!” one of the cashiers exclaimed as he handed a customer the now iconic slim black box each pizza comes in. “I love y’all,” he said to the customer, “no matter how much of a pain in the ass you are, I love y’all.”
&pizza markets itself as an elevated take on a staple American junk food. As the newest kid on the block, it's already made a well–deserved name for itself as a high–quality pizza joint with a prime location. It's filled a void that Penn didn't even realize it had, with doors open late enough to cater to students with a sudden craving for fig balsamic glaze at two in the morning.