The Endless Promise of Pizza

a pizza with cheese and toppings

On one of those cold March days at 12:32 p.m., I fired up the KFC app from the comfort of my home basement office as the wind howled outside. I was on the hunt for something new, something tasty, something only available for a limited time. It was the first ad on screen:

NEW CHIZZA, it said. Only at KFC.

And because there’s nothing more valuable than time, I seized the opportunity and decided to leave my desk, forgo my work, abandon my colleagues, and take a drive, rockin’ the suburbs until a bucket of chicken was reflected in my windshield like a crimson siren, beckoning me inside.

First things first, however – the app instructed me to SELECT A CHIZZA. There was only one option – the pepperoni Chizza – so that’s what I did. No need to customize this bad boy, I thought.

I placed my order, threw on a fleece, and hit the road.

Pizza Pie Innovation

The last time I ate KFC was over a decade ago during one of the most bonkers LTOs from any brand to hit the general market – the Double Down, the grilled chicken sandwich that used two slabs of fried chicken as buns. I didn’t know it then, but the Double Down experiment (and experience) was an early indicator of outsized foodbev exploration and novelty from Yum! Brands, the restaurant company that owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, KFC, and more. Today, Taco Bell is widely recognized as one of the food brands with its finger on the pulse of its most ardent followers – Gen Z and millennials, mostly – those who desire to Live Mas and support the brands they love. From its longstanding licensing partnership with Doritos to one-offs with Klondike (Choco Taco), and Cap’n Crunch, hot merch collabs with Crocs and Forever 21, to weekly Tuesday “drops” as if debuting a sick single off a banging record, Taco Bell – and the other QSR banners under the many-striped flag of Yum! Brands – seem to have their promotional material figured out.

So I was pretty stoked to try the Chizza, you might say.

Something is happening in the world of pizza novelties. From mochi crust to Little Caesar’s Crazy Puffs (which are getting rave reviews), what we even think of as pizza – round, saucy, served by the slice or the square – is up for debate. Even Chick-fil-A is putting its hands in the dough, so to speak, as it recently debuted a pizza lineup at its Little Blue Menu “innovation kitchen” location in College Park, Maryland.

“We’ve noticed our customers getting creative with Chick-fil-A ingredients on pizzas at home, so we’ve decided to jump on board!” noted Stuart Tracy, senior culinary lead developer at Chick-fil-A, in a statement regarding the new item. In this case, the $11.3 billion chicken business is hoping for more from its lineup of six pies – its flagship pizza, the Chick-fil-A Pizza Pie – features mozzarella cheese with chopped Chick-fil-A nuggets drizzled with Chick-fil-A sauce and served with pickles.

Broadly speaking, pizza shouldn’t be that hard to innovate. Square, sliced, deep-dish, thin crust – the endless flavor and texture profiles, from savory to sweet, white sauce to red, pepperoni, pineapples, pickles – it should all be quite doable, all the time. Pizza even carries a small health halo when eaten in moderation – most conventional pizzas can provide a fair amount of carbs, low sugar, and a decent load of protein, vegetables, even fruit (especially if Hawaiian is your jam). It’s a cuisine literally molded into whatever you desire before firing in the oven, not unlike skilled artisans throwing pottery before baking in the kiln.

“Pizza,” one of the foremost ‘za experts in the world once told me, “is one of if not the only food with a dedicated button on the microwave and sometimes oven,” and he’s not wrong. The Italian culinary expert’s name is Jeff, I met him at college, and I once saw him win a blind taste test of several store-bought frozen pizza brands.

But since TFI needs more than Jeff’s good word, I reached out to somebody with his fingers deep, deep in the marinara – Joe Cruz, better known as Casey’s Chief Pizza & Beer Officer.

“Jordan, you came to the right place,” he wrote.

“What a time to be alive. Pizza is just like life – you never know what is going to get thrown at you! I’ll tell you the same thing I tell my kids: Try it all, but you don’t have to finish the stuff you don’t like. 🙂 After all, pizza is for the people.

Cheers bro!”


Wise words from the CPBO. They say you can’t change what you don’t measure, and testing the pepperoni pulse of the American pizzascape is as challenging as it is rewarding, beguiling as it is scrumptious.

Chicken brands are getting in on pizza. Pizza brands are crafting bakery items. Even pizza’s no. 1 tabletop complement – beer – isn’t above a little hops-churning craftwork as New Belgium Brewing Co. wants a seat at the red-checkered table with its new collaboration with Tombstone Pizza – a beer from its Voodoo Ranger line called Tombstone IPizzaA.

“Pizza and beer are undisputedly classics in their own rights and as a brand born in a bar, the collab between Tombstone and Voodoo Ranger delivers on the promise of bold, full-on flavor,” Tombstone said in a statement about the collaboration, which is set to debut on April 7 – National Beer Day.

If Digiornio could release a Thanksgiving pie strewn with turkey day staples like sweet potato, gravy, and cranberries, there’s no reason a beer company can’t harness the same entrepizzeurial spirit and jam classic pizza flavors in a can.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen some meaningful lifts in visitation trends from those brands that have introduced new menu innovations, including McDonald’s Adult Happy Meal promotion and Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza relaunch,” said R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at, to TFI. “As more QSR brands are looking to innovate their menus, pizza is an attractive product to work with as it can leverage ingredients already in the kitchen and can be integrated relatively well into a restaurant’s workflow.”

“It’s more than just being creative,” added Hakki Akdeniz, founder and owner of Champion Pizza in New York City, to TFI, “it’s about combining the comfort and nostalgia of pizza with the excitement of attempting something new. This wave of creativeness represents the worldwide food community’s drive to experiment and share and everyone’s love of comfort food.”

Akdeniz said that in New York City, history and creation are balanced on the edge of a pizza slicer, and, “we embrace new trends while keeping the essence of what makes pizza great: quality, passion, and a touch of magic. The modern pizza scene is another chapter in the developing story of pizza. And it is apparent that the future of pizza will be both exciting and delicious.”

Exciting and delicious – two qualities of pizza everyone from six-year-olds to the Ninja Turtles to today’s most talented chefs, pie tossers, manufacturers, and entrepreneurs can agree upon.

The Journey Doesn’t End Here

Served as an LTO, in a restaurant, or at a ball game, fired in a brick oven at 800 degrees or reheated Sunday morning in a battered collegiate microwave after a late night, pizza is a tough business that can yield great rewards, revenue, and satisfaction. Innovation abounds, from Daiya’s new dairy-free cheese shreds made specifically for foodservice operators to Hormel’s new “Performance Pepperoni” pepperoni ribbons, and rare is the person who can’t find a pizza – some pizza, any pizza, somewhere – that doesn’t meet their flavor and nutritional needs.

There’s a reason pizza is one of the world’s most beloved dishes. Many reasons, in fact, from its endlessly customizable format to the sheer nostalgia it brings to each new generation. To that end, Mike’s Hot Honey recently released a pizza-themed arcade game, Slice Hunter, mimicking the arcade games of old found in many pizza parlors and chains.

“The idea behind Slice Hunter was to connect people back to memories of playing classic arcade games in their childhood pizzerias,” said Mike Kurtz, founder of Mike’s Hot Honey, in a recent statement.

courtesy Mike’s Hot Honey

“The 80s and 90s were a special time for both arcade games and pizza and it was very common to find a classic arcade cabinet like Ms. Pac-Man in the corner of your local pizzeria,” Kurtz said. “The smell of a fresh pie out the oven, the 8-bit sounds of a classic video game, stained drop-ceiling tiles, Tiffany lamps. That’s what this is all about.”

As I was wrapping this story, I was thrilled to later receive a video message from Casey’s no. 1 man in pizza and one of the country’s newly anointed pizza pros.

“Just remember, when you start talking about the pizzaverse, you gotta look out for those wicked-sauce wormholes and vortexes – you’ll get sucked in, you won’t be able to get out,” Cruz told me in a video message.

On his way to a championship volleyball game and filming from his car, Cruz was clad in neon sunglasses, a red-, white-, and blue-striped bandanna, and a red t-shirt that said, Where There’s a Casey’s, There’s Pizza & Beer.

“Keep an eye out for those, otherwise you’ll get pulled into that pizza multiverse. There’s no coming back.”

Pizza shop owner or consumer, the pizzaverse looks bright as summer 2024 approaches. As for the end of my Chizza adventure, I nabbed my to-go box from KFC that cold March day as Britney Spears’s “Toxic” blared from the overhead speakers. The Chizza was hidden in a box wrapped inside a plastic bag, a mystery inside an enigma.

When I got home, I threw my keys on the counter and my prize on the table. I opened the bag with the box inside. I opened the box with the Chizza inside.

I closed my eyes.

I took a bite.