For most of the past couple of decades, Lee Kindell ran a backpackers hostel and boutique hotel in Seattle where he made pizza for travelers as a way to make them feel welcome and share stories over a good meal.
The pizza was so good that guests often told Kindell he should open his own restaurant. He thought it sounded like a good long-term plan but something he might do after he retired from the hotel business.
But then COVID hit.
“We lost our business, and I said, ‘You know, that retirement plan of making pizzas, we’re going to do it now.'”
Fast forward to today, and Kindell is running one of Seattle’s (and America’s) hottest restaurant concepts. In just two years, MOTO Pizza has expanded from one temporary location to three permanent ones with more on the way and a spot inside T-Mobile stadium where Kindell’s team serves up pizzas to hungry Mariner fans during every home game.
If you want to get your hands on one of MOTO’s craft pizzas, you must arrive early (in other words, just after opening or, in the case of T-Mobile, the first couple of innings) and have a little luck. If you’re okay with waiting, you can add your name to the month-long waiting list MOTO announces on its website and socials every few weeks.
When asked if the waiting list is some marketing gimmick, Kindell says it was out of necessity.
“When we first opened, we had a four-hour wait,” Kindell told me. “Now we’ll do 250 pizzas a night at one location, and it’s all timed.”
MOTO’s POS system enables the scheduling of pizzas, but it’s far from the only use of technology Kindell has embraced as he’s looked for ways to scale his business.
“When I hurt my arm, I had to stop making dough by hand and use a mixer,” Kindell said. “When I started using a mixer, I realized the delta between making dough by hand and machine wasn’t that far apart.”
Kindell started looking for other ways to leverage technology. It wasn’t long before he heard of another Seattle company, Picnic, which makes pizza robots. Now, he uses the Picnic robot to add cheese, sauce, and toppings to hundreds of pizzas daily and is looking for more technology.
“Now, I’ve been reaching out to everybody, drone delivery, sidewalk delivery robots. Everything I can think of.”
According to Kindell, his use of technology has enabled his pizza to get into the hands of more customers. He’s also re-shaped his processes and pizza formats, when necessary, to reach more customers. For T-Mobile Park, where MOTO serves up a thousand pizzas or more per night, Kindell and his team created a new single-serve pizza size that fits in hand like a mobile phone.
“Think about how comfortable that phone is in your hand,” Kindell said, holding his phone. “I wanted a slice to be that comfortable in your hand.”
While much of Kindell’s early success is due to hard work and his embrace of new technology, he’d also be the first to tell you some of it – especially MOTO’s presence at a major league ballpark – has to do with luck.
When Kindell saw a couple of guys eating his pizza in the front yard in West Seattle, he asked how they liked it. After they told him it could survive in New York, he asked what they were doing out here, and they said they worked for the Seattle Mariners.
“I asked one of them, ‘How do I get into the stadium? Who do I talk to?’. He said, ‘me.'”
The long lines and fast growth have drawn lots of attention to MOTO, including from investors. But, while investors “are knocking down the door,” Kindell said he is not in any hurry as he figures out a way to use technology to optimize his processes even further to take his concept nationwide.
“I just want to be one step ahead with everything that I’m doing because when the time comes, I’m going to have my systems in place and ready to go so I can do it in stadiums all over. I can do it in the grocery store. And in urban and suburban spaces.”
Hopefully, by then, there won’t be a wait.