Michael Holt has a rather complicated relationship with his tattoos. He regrets the spiderweb on his arm, and while he finds meaning in his tattoo of Proverbs 13:4, he believes he's outgrown his tattoo phase. But the appeal of a year of free pizza made him renege on his vow to stop.
Thursday he added his 25th tattoo, the ampersand logo of Federal Hill's new &pizza.
In celebration of its latest location opening, &pizza offered a perk previously only open to its employees. The first five customers who were willing and eligible got a free ampersand tattoo and one free pizza a week for a year.
"I wasn't going to get another tattoo until I heard there was free pizza," said Holt, a Baltimore native who works in Washington, D.C. and regularly visits &pizza's branch there. "I thought I was done forever."
The draw of free pizza meant that by 11 a.m. on its opening day, a line had formed outside &pizza, located at 1201 S. Charles St. Thursday only, the restaurant was also distributing freebies to less adventurous customers. A few latecomers inquiring about tattoos were turned away.
Inside, the latest branch of the Washington, D.C.-based pizza chain has a distinct black and white theme. Black pendant lamps hang from the ceilings, a thick black ampersand is painted on a white brick wall and black calla lilies in large bell mason jars dot the room. While some patrons picked up the free pizza and left, others, mostly millennials, sat on the bleach-white chairs, ate pizza and sipped on homemade craft sodas out of mason jars. However, they all weren't there just for the free pizza.
For Jason McCardell, 37, an Iraq veteran with a thick, chestnut-brown beard and a tattoo of a lion that stretches from the base of his neck to the mid-point of his left ear, a free tattoo paired with free pizza is the perfect merger. "I love food," he said.
He was third in line, and there he met Eddie Davis, 26, of East Baltimore. For Davis, the ampersand tattoo will be a symbol of the spirit of spontaneity that drives his life.
"I'm trying something new," he said. "You've got one life to live."
After the group finished eating, they headed to Brightside Tattoo Shop on Light Street. There, tattoo enthusiast David Harrell, 28, decided he wanted the ampersand tattoo to take up much of his arm. The large ampersand now shares a home with 13 other tattoos, including a guitar in honor of his late grandfather, a cross for his mother and a memorial for his cousin who died at 16.
While Harrell seemed nonchalant about the experience, DeAndre Miles, 25, was more anxious. This was his first tattoo; his girlfriend, an employee of &pizza, had promised to get the tattoo later.
"I'm a little bit scared but I'm also excited," he said. Even if it were painful, at the very least they'd have matching tattoos.
Michael Lastoria, the co-founder of &pizza, has yet to get an ampersand tattoo himself. He's set a secret goal and once he's reached it, he said, he'll join 50 of his employees who have the tattoo.
With its mix of young professionals and an emerging creative scene, Federal Hill seemed like the ideal area for their latest store, he said.
"Hopefully it ties into what's here and adds value to the community," said Lastoria. "It's not what we want it to be, it's what the community wants it to be."
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For those less committed to the cause but into the idea of free pizza, there was the option of a temporary ampersand tattoo. Even a toddler sitting in a Brexit stroller and clutching a plush toy had an employee affix a temporary tattoo to his thigh.