How a Portland Pizza Joint Mixes Culture with Cuisine

by Susan Johnston on April 28, 2011
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Portland, Oregon has plenty of options for pizza. Many of them, like Lonesome’s Pizza, use gourmet ingredients like shiitake mushrooms or fresh basil. Lonesome’s Pizza doesn’t even have a seating area (it’s delivery-only), yet this scrappy newcomer managed to move into the black after its second month of business.

How’d they manage this rare feat?

Word of mouth and a little something called lagniappe. According to Lonesome’s co-owner Noah Antieau, who also owns an art gallery in New Orleans, “it’s an indigenous term [in New Orleans] which refers to getting something extra without paying for it.”

Giving away free samples of food is pretty common for restaurants, but Lonesome’s gives away samples of art, music, or movies inside each pizza box. “If you’re in a town and there’s 30 different pizza places, you set yourself apart by giving some music or art you’ve never seen before,” explains Antieau. “It’s value-added.”

Antieau handpicks artists who submit their work for consideration. “We are most concerned with story, the idea of narrative conveyed in some way shape or form,” explains Antieau.

It’s a way for emerging artists to reach new audiences and for Lonesome’s to attract culturally savvy customers. The artists don’t earn royalties but Antieau says “we’ve found they’re thrilled to do it” and get promoted to a wider audience.

Still, the process hasn’t been without its challenges. “Originally we thought we were going to staple stuff to the boxes… until someone ate a staple,” says Antieau, who quickly adds that it was one of the owners during a trial run. Next the company set out to find nontoxic adhesives, learning through trial and error.

Still, the concept is catching on, and though Antieau likes using pizza boxes to promote artists or nonprofits, he’d hate to see it become another billboard for major brands. “People realized it was an unforeseen marketing opportunity,” he explains. “It’s a way of getting at people that they aren’t used to. There’s something disarming about getting an unexpected piece of art in a pizza box in your home.”

Susan Johnston is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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