World Domination, One Pie at a Time
If you’re a fan of SNAP Custom Pizza, good thing. They’re about to be everywhere.
By Mike Madaio
Rob Wasserman was among the first in what’s become a legion of prominent restaurateurs and chefs nationwide hurrying to open a gourmet-grade, fast-casual restaurant. Or, in Wasserman’s case, a bunch of them.
The owner of the Rittenhouse Square mainstay, Rouge, teamed up in 2014 with Pete Howey and Aaron Nocks, the owners of Peace A Pizza and New Hope Premium Fountain, to launch SNAP Custom Pizza in Ardmore. A second location opened in Exton late last year. And a third followed a couple months back, where Wasserman’s Center City burger joint, 500 Degrees, was formerly located.
And they’re just the beginning of what’s become a very ambitious expansion plan that encompasses 15 openings over the next 18 to 24 months.
“Each store is a limited build-out, unlike the multimillion-dollar budget you need to remodel a fine dining restaurant,” Wasserman explained over a couple of pies at the Exton SNAP. “Here, the turnaround time is 60 days, and we don’t need a big cash infusion.”
SNAP bakes its pies—600 degrees for about two minutes—in a conveyor convection oven—think Quizno’s—which doesn’t require an exhaust system. The so-called artisanal pizza places that have been cropping up like mushrooms in April need one, along with a wood-fire oven that’s usually custom-built. Both equal a lot of time and money.
Spurred by the popularity of Chipotle and Shake Shack, chefs once relegated to high-minded concept dining—David Chang, José Andrés —are reimagining the fast-food staples and presenting them among customizable menus and modern spaces.
“I can’t take any credit. It was all Pete and Aaron,” Wasserman says of SNAP’s inception. “They’ve been doing Peace A Pizza forever and started to see the writing on the wall. The era’s over where you walk into a restaurant and see slices sitting under the glass waiting to be reheated. With what you can now do with the ovens and the fresh, local ingredients, it’s a game-changer.”
The SNAP experience mirrors that of Chipotle. Customers build their own pizzas from a buffet of ingredients as they proceed through the line. Several pre-selected combinations are also available if you don’t feel like thinking about it. The appeal, Wasserman says, is the freshness as much as the freedom of choice.
“We’re not pulling a frozen pie out of the oven,” he says. “Everything is made from scratch, using high-quality ingredients.”
That said, SNAP pizza isn’t necessarily an upgrade. The expense and effort invested in all those wood-fire ovens isn’t for nothing. The intense heat they generate creates that fresh-baked flavor and the crispy-on-the-outside, doughy-on-the-inside texture. SNAP’s conveyor convection ovens fall about 200 degrees short, and the crusts, in turn, come out as crisp and as flavorful as a saltine.
But there’s strength in numbers. If there are two or three SNAPs within a 10-minute drive, chances are you’re landing there for a fair amount of your cravings, whether you like the crust or not. It’s convenient, which can never be overstated in our have-it-now culture, and the ability to customize is a powerful lure.
The stiff crust seems to be a nonfactor thus far anyway. We grew up, after all, with soggy crust as the norm. As we talked, our conversation was twice interrupted by satisfied customers. “I paid them,” Wasserman quipped. There’s also the 4.5-star Yelp rating, out of more than 100 reviews, which is no easy feat.
“People love the fact that they’re not looking at a reheat,” he says. Which may speak more to our blind love for pizza than our standards.
Photos courtesy SNAP Custom Pizza