By Tracy Morin
With 25 locations in the Seattle area and nearly 45 years of business under its belt, Pagliacci Pizza knows its market inside and out. And it’s betting that drone delivery is going to be the next innovation to—in more than one way—take the brand to new heights.
“We as a company have a long track record and interest in sustainability,” explains Matt Galvin, co-owner of Pagliacci Pizza. “We were the first restaurant chain in the city to offer composting in all of our locations. We’re the second-largest purchaser of green power (renewable energy) in the city of Seattle. We offer electric bike delivery and started purchasing electric vehicles for our drivers to use. We built a LEED-certified pizzeria about 12 years ago. We have a real commitment to using locally sourced products, compostable packaging—basically, using a variety of ways to lessen our footprint on the environment. So when the folks at Zipline contacted us, it felt like a natural fit.”
Sustainability is obviously important to Pagliacci, and the prospect of drone delivery offers numerous other benefits, too, especially in a crowded, traffic-congested area like Seattle. Offering drones during peak hours reduces the amount of time it takes for a pizza to get from the oven to a hungry customer’s doorstep—without the negative environmental impact. “Half of our business is delivery, and having a 4,000-pound vehicle delivering a five-pound order probably isn’t the best thing for our environment,” Galvin says. “We felt this was a real opportunity for us to lessen our carbon emissions. Plus, we see drones being wildly successful and well-received by customers who like how quickly deliveries can happen. At first, I think customers think it’s cool because of the novelty, but then it quickly becomes: ‘Wow, instant delivery.’”
Pagliacci announced in May that it was partnering with Zipline, an instant logistics and delivery system using cutting-edge drone technology, to take pizza delivery to the skies. “Zipline’s technology is incredible, and I think it can change the business-to-customer distribution model,” Galvin notes. “We believe it can be transformational for our business and other businesses like us.”
Luckily, Pagliacci has not experienced the labor issues that many pizzerias have—Galvin notes that the average manager at the business has stuck around for 13-plus years, and the average active driver has lasted for six. But drones can also be a great fit for locations that struggle to find and retain reliable delivery drivers—or for those delivering to spread-out neighborhoods. “One of the general challenges for our industry’s drivers is those long deliveries, several miles away,” Galvin says. “They can be pretty inefficient for our drivers, and we think the Zipline drone deliveries can help answer that issue. In the middle of a rush, sending out a driver on a long single delivery is not efficient, and this can help alleviate that business constraint. Any business that delivers to homes knows those peak times are really challenging.”
“In the middle of a rush, sending out a driver on a long single delivery is not efficient, and [drones] can help alleviate that business constraint.”
Matt Galvin, Pagliacci Pizza
Drone delivery, of course, does come with its own set of rules, regulations and potential challenges. After all, pizzas are boldly going where no pizzas have gone before. But Pagliacci execs see hurdles as the entrance fee for industry disruption. “Anytime you’re reimagining an entire system, there are going to be challenges, whether that be the FAA or the municipality saying, ‘Wait, how does this work?’” Galvin says. “There’s education that needs to happen, from the FAA or municipality to consumers and employees, to get people to understand or to address unforeseen challenges. But we’ve been impressed with Zipline’s spirit of innovation and their enthusiasm for what they’re trying to accomplish. They’re terrifically smart and passionate. We’re super-excited about the partnership.”
Still, you heard that right: The FAA, or the Federal Aviation Administration, is the agency that oversees drone delivery. That’s because they’re in charge of air space, whether you’re flying a plane or a pizza. Working with the FAA is just one aspect that needs to be hammered out over the long process of adding this option. Galvin notes that the company has been considering drones for a couple of years, announced its intent last spring, and hopes to have it up and running by early 2025.
Fortunately, Zipline has been reportedly delivering packages via drone—to the tune of traveling more than 40 million miles—for more than a decade without an accident, and they’re the ones who handle dealing with the FAA, clearing the skies for Pagliacci’s pies.
How will drone delivery work from the business’ perspective? Pagliacci Pizza has a one-number order center, which takes calls for all locations—and these orders funnel through the same system as those made through its app or online. Once implemented, the drone delivery will be offered to any customer, as long as the order fits the parameters of the drone’s capabilities, including the special delivery box used. (For example, large catering orders will be relegated to the no-fly zone.) The company is currently developing the custom packaging box that will fit the parameters of the machine.
The customer can then choose drone delivery, an option that’s now being added to Pagliacci’s API (application programming interface) to be offered to customers. “Once the order prints, it will look like any other pizza order for our cooks—but at the point when it’s out of the oven, it’ll be routed to the person who handles the drone packaging instead of to a driver,” Galvin explains. “The droid will have a dock at the pizzeria location, so we’ll put it in the droid, and it’ll fly away.”
Once the drones are in place, the service is likely to receive plenty of attention, both locally and nationwide. “Our hope is that Seattle will be one of the first markets for Zipline, but they have market partners all over the country, so I think you can expect to hear more from them in the coming years,” Galvin predicts. “That’s good for everybody. What they’re doing is pretty neat.
“My anticipation is that there’s going to be a lot of interest in this as we go live—and a lot of education of employees and customers,” he adds. “We’ll do a whole marketing campaign based on this idea of pizza delivered by drones. It’s our goal to introduce this to our entire delivery market and potentially expand our delivery footprint. As radical as it seems at first, the more you look at it, the more you realize it’s just a logical next step.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s copy editor.