A chalk drawing of “In Pizza We Trust,” #LegalizeMarinara in illuminated neon, bold lettering on the wall adjacent to a big Warhol-esque wall of black, red and white prints, fill the inside of Stoner’s Pizza Joint.
In an alcove of The Arcade off Washington Street, Stoner’s Pizza Joint opened in 2019 and has been serving oven-fresh pizza ever since.
Although the pizzeria portrays itself in a very specific way, the essence of the restaurant is less about stoner culture and more about quick, quality pizza served in a casual and youthful environment.
“It's really cool laid-back vibe. You know, we got cool names of certain items … A lot of marketing to bring the people in,” Detrick Keys, a driver at Stoner's for almost two years, said.
What started as a “mom-and-pop” chain pizza restaurant in Savannah, Georgia, committed to good ingredients and service, has since evolved into a franchise with around 18 locations in a number of states, such as Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, according to Hunter Morris. Morris is the general manager of Stoner’s in Columbia and was one of the original employees of the brand before it started to branch out.
Morris said the mom-and-pop chain's transformation into a franchise was complete when money came in from angel investors and eventually HospitalityX, the company that owns the brand today.
Marijuana humor aside, it is a local-brand-turned-franchise that is oriented to millennials and college towns and focuses on quick and fresh food. Headquartered out of Charleston, South Carolina, the brand has been growing through the years.
“We do really good business here," Morris said. "Columbia is very receptive to like, what we're trying to do.”
The brand has also been known for its charitable actions and recent activism, such as giving free pizza to food-insecure families when the pandemic was in full swing and helping the local Humane Society at its Fort Lauderdale branch.
It has certainly grown from its local restaurant beginnings, but Stoner's maintains its individual identity through the pizza recipes and the character of its franchise.
“We are kind of like a Papa John's type, like, what we're trying to do, but we're just — it's just better quality," Morris said. "You know, we're not like the big guys where everything comes in frozen on truck. We have no freezers, everything's fresh. So I think the food speaks for itself when it comes to that. Yeah, because we do everything in-house.”
According to some of the workers, the wings, the half-baked cookie, the Nice to Meat You pizza, and the classic large pepperoni pizza are some notable menu items to order.
“Amazing. Everything's just amazing,” delivery driver Taylor Goodwin said when asked how to describe the food there.
All the employees interviewed agreed Stoner’s work culture is laid-back and cool, with good people and good food.
"Man it's great, man. Good people — you look forward to coming to work. We have a good time here," Keys said.