The Death of the $15 Salad

How pizza won the pandemic—and Sweetgreen got left behind

Moe Tkacik
Marker
Published in
9 min readNov 10, 2020

--

A pizza box, a bucket of drumsticks, and a salad bowl in free fall, as the pizza and drumsticks bucket high-five each other.
Illustration: Erik Blad

The best meal I had all pandemic cost $1.14 and took about 90 seconds to make. It was a Margherita pizza inhaled in the car on a desolate day in late April. I know the precise cost because my husband is the chef who made it: 61 cents for a few slices of fresh buffalo mozzarella, 24 cents for the San Marzano tomatoes and salt, a quarter for enough basil leaves to supply the rest of the menu’s needs for free, and just 11 cents for the dough, made from a mix of top-shelf imported Italian flours. In normal times, his restaurant sold a Margherita for $20, but he could get away with selling it for $10 and still reach 10% food cost.

We are a nation in the throes of an unprecedented eight-month pizza binge that shows no signs of abating. Multiple pizzerias in Los Angeles reported a 250% rise in sales on Election Day, and on Thursday, Papa John’s reported quarterly same-store sales growth of 23.8%. For months now, the underlying forces for the sustained pizza craze have been as hotly debated within the restaurant industry as the election results have been parsed by professional pollsters. Stress eating is a major cause; quarantine-induced failure of imagination and the return of three major-league sports within weeks of one another over the summer certainly didn’t hurt.

--

--

Moe Tkacik
Marker

senior fellow at the American Economic Liberties Project, co-founder of Jezebel, former Wall Street Journal reporter, off-again waitress, mommy