One day, La Boulangerie partners Pascal Rigo and Nicolas Bernadi want their new fast food restaurant to be “the In-N-Out of pizza.” After quietly toiling for the last three years to develop a quick, inexpensive pizza, they’ll finally start serving the result — $2.75 for a 9-inch Margherita with organic dough and tomato sauce — next Tuesday at Apizza on Fillmore Street.
“For now, it’s still a big dream,” Rigo says. “But we’ve worked a lot on it, and we love the pizza.”
To make Apizza a reality, Bernadi and Rigo have had to think — at times literally — outside the box. When ordered to go, Apizza’s pies won’t come in boxes, which can be expensive, bulky, and wasteful. Instead, they’ll be served folded in on themselves, cut in half, and placed in compostable containers. “We’d rather put that [investment from boxes] into using Mary’s Chicken,” says Rigo, referring to the organic chicken producer Apizza uses for its BBQ chicken pizza ($6).
Knowing Rigo and Bernadi’s careers, their plan for Apizza’s expansion is no pipe dream. For years, they ran the food category at Starbucks, developing relationships with the country’s largest food producers. “We love to think about bringing delicious food to people in an affordable ways and being able to scale it,” says Bernadi.
The Starbucks saga goes like this: Rigo opens his first SF bakery, La Boulange, in the late ’90s, eventually expanding to four commercial bakeries and 22 cafe bakeries. Bernadi joins as a partner in 2011, and in 2012, Starbucks purchases the whole chain — locations, recipes, and Rigo and Bernadi’s expertise — for $100 million. But in 2015, after the partners leave Starbucks for jobs at food startup Munchery, the coffee giant closes all La Boulange locations. Rigo and Bernadi come to the rescue, buying back many of the old La Boulange locations and starting them back up under the new name La Boulangerie de San Francisco.
The first Apizza location occupies one of those shuttered La Boulange locations at 2043 Fillmore Street. The space is spare and minimal — a “very upscale construction site,” they joke. The design, like the pizzas, is built for growth: A second, more suburban Apizza location will open in Belmont by the end of the year. From there, the team could open more locations themselves, or perhaps franchise them, potentially in a partnership model.
Working at Starbucks made Rigo and Bernadi consider the major impacts a big food company can have on public health, they say. “At scale, you can change how people eat, one ingredient at a time,” says Rigo. At Apizza, those ingredients are mostly organic: La Tourangelle organic olive oil, tomatoes farmed in Yolo, and heritage pork sausage from Creminelli Fine Meats. Crust options are organic wheat and sprouted organic wheat from Central Milling Co. (as well as a gluten-free option). And rather than serve commercial soda — no good in all its forms, the partners say — Apizza will serve Italian sodas with fresh fruit purées.
Apizza’s restaurants won’t make their dough onsite: Instead they’ll prepare — and freeze — it at a commercial kitchen offsite, then add toppings and bake it in store on a modified Italian oven. “If you start mixing [dough] in every store, someone [might] forget to add the yeast... so it’s not scalable,” Bernadi says. Toppings include roasted seasonal veggies ($5.79), muffuletta (mozzarella cheese, provolone cheese, pepperoni, ham, relish, and red onion for $6.49), and in the most direct play to In-N-Out, a cheeseburger pizza (ground beef, cheese, tomato, lettuce, red onion, cornichons, Thousand Island dressing, and sesame seeds for $5.99, with an option to substitute Impossible Burger). In a nod to their Frenchness, Rigo and Bernadi call that one “la royale with cheese,” referencing the famous scene from Pulp Fiction.
Finally, Apizza’s dessert options will be recognizable to SF customers: The restaurants will serve Loving Cup, the frozen yogurt company that La Boulangerie acquired last year. Customers choose a base and add mix-ins like Nutella, strawberries, and Oreos. “We’ve always been in love with that concept,” Bernadi says.
Starting with lunch on Tuesday, Apizza’s hours will be 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.