Editor's note: In honor of National Pizza Month (aka October), the Serious Eats editors, staff, and Slice writers will top off our regular content with their deepest thoughts on all things cheesy, saucy, and crusty.
Love it or hate it, the fast casual / quick service / Chiptole-ization of pizza is here to stay. The novelty of lining up and specifying topping via a Chiptole / Subway / Pinkberry / Panera assembly line isn't wearing off... it's popping up across the country. I was first introduced to it in mid-2011 at Pieology although it's been around much longer then most people think. The grandfather (and only V.P.N) of the movement is Punch Pizza having opened in the Twin Cities back in 1996.
So what's the fascination? What do we—the general public—gain by inserting ourselves into the process? Personally, I don't gain much. Anyone whose seen me design a pizzas 'on the fly' gets a hardy laugh. Despite entering the Slice family via Top This , my impromptu topping combinations are a horror show: a mishmash of impulsion and feigned creativity. Also, as Adam pointed out in the comments section of the 800 Degrees review:
"I know that the assembly-line thing is newish for pizza... But ... but ... I can't help but say ... THIS IS NEW CLOTHES ON AN OLD DOLL. Americans are WELL ACQUAINTED with the concept of specifying which toppings go on their pizzas."
Still, Fast Casual pizza wins me over with their speed. I want pizza constantly, but am often hindered by time and proximity. The fast casual model fills that gap between slices and sit-down restaurants. Plus for the 98%* of us living in cities without the critical mass to make pizza-by-the-slice prolific, fast causal pizza may be our only liberator from waiters and stale slices.
* (I have 0% data to back up that number up, I'm just trying to make a point)
There has been numerous articles published on the impending Chiptole-ization of pizza. But when I read this article citing fast casual pizza as a "business model created by Adam Fleischman's 800 Degrees in Westwood" I shook my fist to the sky and said NO MORE MISINFORMATION.
I asked the current players in the Chiptole / Subway / Pinkberry / Panera / whatever-ization of pizza several questions to help put the movement into prospective. So, for your perusal, here is an evolving overview of the fast casual pizza movement in America (Click this link):