Courtesy Pizzaoki via Facebook

Is DJ Steve the new Papa John?

Tim Nelson
Updated: September 13, 2018

In today’s post-Papa John climate, pizza freaks are clamoring for someone—anyone—to step up and serve as a mascot they can trust. But unless Domino’s revives the Noid or Little Caesar’s rebrands the cartoon on their boxes as some sort of fascist strongman who unites a weary nation under the banner of pepperoni, it’s time for a new challenger to step up. And who can serve as the face of a pizza better than an EDM DJ famous for crowd surfing over his audiences in an inflatable raft?

That’s the concept behind Pizzaoki, a burgeoning pizza chain that derives its brand identity from one of the world’s highest-paid and most recognizable DJ’s. Launched as a delivery-only operation, Pizzaoki maintains club-inspired hours (keeping the pizza party going until 4 a.m. on weekend nights) and leverages services like UberEats and Postmates to sling pizzas to hungry ravers across LA.

In addition to lending his name and money to the restaurant venture (his sixth), Aoki lends his creativity and knack for crowd-pleasing to the direction of the business itself.

“I'm very hands-on and especially with the creation of the sauces and the naming of the pizzas as well as what products we're serving,” the DJ/brand said in an interview with Forbes. “The Aoiki DNA is in there, the sauce we use is Mama Aoki's special sauce, every pizza is different song titles and represents an emotional response of what the pizza should deliver to you, how that song resonates with you.”

Though mapping specific pizza toppings onto songs and feelings sounds like the kind of business plan someone developed while taking pure MDMA, Pizzaoki seems to be onto something. Aoki and business partner Lawrence Vavra plan to open up to seven new locations in and around LA before the end of the year. 2019 should bring new locations around the Bay Area and in San Diego, as well as an eastward expansion to Chicago, Miami, Boston, and New York.

If you ask Aoki, though, his eye are already set on world domination. “Now the world is asking for it too,” he tells Forbes. “It’s so exciting to think I could bring Pizzaoki to Germany, Spain, France, and Italy, I mean, that’s the home of Pizza so who knows where we’ll end up going.”

It’s ambitious, especially given that other delivery-centric ventures, including the likes of David Chang’s Ando, have already gone belly-up. But who knows? Maybe the DJ, producer, and label founder somehow has the special Mama Oaki sauce needed to keep the pizza beat marching on.  

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