“Our goal now is 10,000 pizzas a day”: How the pandemic—and $13 million—is turning General Assembly into a frozen-pizza powerhouse

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In 2017, Toronto restaurateur Ali Khan Lalani opened General Assembly Pizza, one of a whole whack of premium pizza restaurants in Toronto. Last week he closed a $13 million round of funding, step one in transforming a local pizza brand into a global empire. Here, he tells Toronto Life about a supremely successful pandemic pivot, how downtown pizza tastes differ from the burbs’ and why the future is frozen.

Last week, General Assembly Pizza closed a $13 million Series A funding round. That seems like a crazy amount of money. What are you doing with it?

It’s definitely not something I would have imagined at this time last year. The funding is financing our transition into a food tech company. In September we launched our e-commerce platform for our monthly pizza subscription service. The goal was to get 100 subscribers in the first month, ideally 250 the next. Instead, we got 50 on the first day, 500 by the first month and over 1,000 subscribers in eight weeks. Over that period we were doing everything out of the restaurant—making the pizzas, packing the pizzas, delivering the pizzas—and we realized that wasn’t going to be sustainable. If we wanted to keep going we were going to have to level up our production, so we had an internal meeting where we asked ourselves “Are we in or are we in?” We needed to try to raise some capital and double down on becoming an e-commerce company.

And obviously that went well. Thirteen million!

When we kicked off our fundraising in December the goal was to raise about $3.5 million. At that point we had almost 2,000 subscribers, so we were thinking of building a production facility where we could make 5,000 pizzas a day. But then the numbers kept going up and up, which meant that we would need an even larger facility—which meant raising more money. We were lucky that there was a huge amount of enthusiasm with our investors and we ended up over-subscribed. Our goal now is 10,000 pizzas a day or up to 20,000, assuming we get to that point.

Is that a safe assumption?

Definitely. We are excited to be in expansion mode. One of the great things about being in e-commerce is that we are able to really dig into and follow the data. We know, for example, that about 55 percent of our customers start their subscription with the base package—four pizzas a month—but by month two, more than half of those people move up to six or eight or 10 pizzas, so that’s incredibly encouraging. We have also followed data to determine the locations with the most demand. At first, our subscription service was servicing only M postal codes, but we started a waiting list on the website where we asked people to put in their postal codes. So we knew right away that our second zone would be in the L postal code, so the GTA. This week we are launching in the N zone, which includes Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, London and Stratford.

What can data tell you about the diverging pizza tastes of 416ers vs 905ers?

The most popular pizza in the M postal code is the margherita and the most popular one for those with L postal codes is our Loving Cup, which is cheese and pepperoni.

I guess that means there are more vegetarians downtown?

I think that’s probably the case.