Before sharing the details of the weeklong journey during which I spent every day eating what might be the best food bargain in L.A., I’d like for you to consider two numbers: 53,148 and four.
Four is the number of dollars it takes to buy the #PizzaoftheDay, an Instagram-only special that Neapolitan pizza chain 800 Degrees has been running for the past six months. Every day, one photo of a pizza is posted at around 10 a.m. Pizzas with those exact toppings are sold at 50 percent off all day — no substitutions allowed.
So yes, an 11-inch Neapolitan pizza for $4 plus change.
What does $4 typically get you these days? An hour of parking in Santa Monica? A pair of pants dry-cleaned? Even Little Caesars, the Big Lots of pizza chains, charges $5 for the bloated cardboard rafts they call pizza. Not only is 800 Degrees not terrible, it’s beautiful and satisfying and soul-warming. It’s far better than a multi-location pizza chain has any right to be. Here, the dough is chewy, tangy and blistered with little bubbles caused by actual wood fire. The mozzarella is, like, the real gooey stuff. They have cool stone ovens that cook pizzas in a minute. Most important, they sell pizza for $4.
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to call 800 Degrees the greatest “fast casual” concept in L.A. (at least until Shake Shack arrives).
Obviously, I love this deal. But do I love it enough to eat the #PizzaoftheDay every day a week until 2160? This brings up the second number: 53,148. It’s the total number of possible topping configurations at 800 Degrees. It’s also the reason why the #PizzaoftheDay deal exists, thanks to a sophomore business major at Northern Arizona University.
Oliver Adams, 19, was working at the 800 Degrees in Westwood over the summer. As you’d imagine, he ate pizza nearly every day. What impressed him most was the sheer number of topping, 53 in all. He’d never heard of a pizza place with that many. How many different pizzas could those toppings combine to make? He went to 800 Degrees founder Anthony Carron with an idea: One different pizza special, every day, for the next 145 years.
That’s when it got a weird.
Carron asked Adams to flesh the idea out. So Adams called Matteo Pellegrini, a family friend who also happens to be a biophysics professor with his own lab at UCLA. Pellegrini helped compiled a giant spreadsheet of every possible topping combination, organized by the number of toppings and pizza bases. Every month, Adams would scan the list and send the next 30 days worth of pizza topping options to the chain’s general manager. The GM would snap a photo of each completed pie and send it to Adams, who would then post the picture to Instagram. The daily cycle continued even after Adams went back to Arizona for college and was no longer officially employed by the company (he’s considering a future career in pizza, naturally).
Before the pizza promotion, 800 Degrees had around 300 Instagram followers. They currently have over 12,000. The Westwood location — the original and most popular store — sells around 350 #PoTDs every day, Carron estimates. The other seven locations sell less than a third of that.
Does 800 Degrees make money on the Pizza of the Day? Not much, says Carron, which is fine. He understands business and profit margins way more than I do. So I had zero qualms about milking the deal for all it’s worth, namely spending less than $35 on a week’s worth of pizza for lunch.
Here’s what I ate on my adventure in frugality.
Pizza: Bianca sauce with chicken and mushrooms
Notes: Like chicken alfredo but in pizza form. Enjoyable for grown adults who still eat like 7-year-olds. Didn’t realize the DTLA location doesn’t validate before 6 p.m. and spent more on parking than my pizza. Oops. Day 2
Pizza: Marinara with fontina, roasted corn, arugula
Notes: Corn on pizza? Where am I, Korea? Today I learned that you can add garlic, chiles and oregano to your pizza at no cost — except the cost of your reputation (asking for more free things on your discounted pizza can make you like a cheap bastard). Day 3
Pizza: Verde (pesto) with artichoke and whole roasted garlic
Notes: They give you real Parmesan cheese for free here, rather than white cheesy dust, which is impressive. Also, free parking in Pasadena. Free water, too.
Pizza: Bianca with butternut squash and caramelized onions
Notes: Felt a little too autumn-y for my tastes. Asked for crust “well-done” which some people might prefer, but I’m not so sure. Still ate the whole thing. Day 5
Pizza: Margherita with broccolini and soppressata
Notes: The Italians are truly a great and enlightened people. All praise to Margherita. It’s worth mentioning that all these pizzas take like a minute to bake. Most days I eat lunch in less than 20 minutes. Maybe because I eat alone.
Pizza: Bianca with ham and pesto
Notes: Tried gluten-free crust for empathy purposes. Tasted like crunchy part of lasagna noodle that gets exposed while baking. Did not hate. Please, no more Biancas though. My body requires sauce.
Pizza: Margherita with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and pesto
Notes: Tried “crispy crust” option. Instant regret. Tasted like stale tortilla. Why does this exist? Re-ordered with the original Neapolitan crust and felt like a human being again.
Notes: I kind of want another pizza. But maybe not another 53,141.