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Inside Galactic Pizza’s (super)heroic earth-conscious business model

A classic image of Galactic Pizza's planet-saving pizza heroes.

A classic image of Galactic Pizza's planet-saving pizza heroes. Star Tribune

If you’ve ever had a Minnesotan clad in a superhero cape trek through blazing heat or freezing cold to deliver pizza to your door, you’ve seen a bit of Pete Bonahoom’s vision come to life. But while you may be familiar with this signature look, or the out-of-this-world pizza that comes with it, there’s a lot more to Galactic Pizza—the business behind those capes—than meets the eye. 

For instance, did you know that in all likelihood your pizza hero was driving an electric vehicle? And the pizza box that delicious pie came in is fully compostable? Or that many of the cheese, meat, and veggie toppings are local and organic? And that’s just the beginning. 

Galactic Pizza was born in 2004 out of founder Pete Bonahoom’s love of pizza-making, mixed with an urge to run a profitable business with a potential to bring about change in the world. Pizzas weren’t always flying out the doors at the little pizza shop, though. Galactic evolved slowly, becoming an Uptown staple at Lyndale Avenue and West 29th Street in the years since. 

“Like any startup business, things were rough in the beginning,” says current owner John Wackerman. 

It wasn’t until 2006, when a caped pizza delivery driver became a real-life hero by foiling a purse snatcher, that Galactic Pizza got its place on the map. The heroics made national news and the delicious pizzas starting filling countless Minneapolis stomachs. 

A highlight of Galactic’s sustainable practices is their dedication to composting and recycling anything and everything they can. Wackerman says even now, their “weekly amount of garbage that goes to a landfill fits inside of a residential garbage can.” This is truly impressive when you consider the industrial-size dumpsters many restaurants can easily fill in a week. They also use compostable and recyclable packaging. Each pizza box you carry home from Galactic has a secret purpose: bring it back to the store to be composted and it functions as a $1 off coupon for your new order. The restaurant is powered by wind energy as well, so no emissions are produced through operating the store, and those electric cars used by the aforementioned super-delivery drivers also help offset emissions.

As for the pizzas themselves, nearly every item on the menu has a vegan and/or vegetarian alternative, in addition to offering a gluten-free crust option. They use as much local and organic produce as possible, as well as non-GMO flour. The cheese comes from cows not treated with growth hormones. Their bacon, bison sausage, and free-roam chicken are all sourced from local farms.

Then there is Galactic’s community and human-friendly element: The store donates 5 percent of all pre-tax profits to a variety of charitable organizations. Through their Dine for Dollars program, organizations partner with Galactic and are given fliers, which when redeemed on a particular day send a percentage of profits back to the partnering organization. They also reward kids who are doing great things in their schools with free pizzas, as a way of saying “keep up the good work.” This Super Achievement program is an initiative Wackerman (a former sixth-grade teacher) wishes more people would take advantage of to encourage students who are doing good.

There’s a bigger point to focusing on Galactic’s “minor” operating details, of course. Check any news source any day of the week and you’ll be bombarded with bad news about climate change, pollution, and human suffering. It’s quick work to go online and feel hopeless about the state of the world. But as this small business demonstrates, it’s clear that sustainable practices are manageable and shouldn’t be the work of just a few exceptional companies. Any business can do more to help the environment and local people without going bankrupt in the process. 

Wackerman has a simple suggestion for how to get started: Learn from the companies doing what you want to do. This truly applies to anyone looking to grow or build a business. His first six months with Galactic were brutal, he recalled, wondering if he’d made a huge mistake in changing his career path and moving to a new state. 

I would have had a much better transition had I [first] worked at Galactic or another [food/pizza] business that operated the way that Galactic operated.” 

If you want to start a business, find a similar business to work for and learn from. If you want to transition your business to use sustainable practices, look to the places like Galactic who are already doing it so well, and with such a lengthy track record. 

And above all, it’s essential to have a full-bodied business model. It’s never been all about one thing for the Uptown pizza staple. They want the full package for their customers. Wackerman sees this pizza world holistically, as a combination of “sustainability, charitable programs, good food, and conversation (if they want it).” 

And yes, phenomenal pizza remains at the (huge) heart of the company.