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A Slice Of Community: BurnBox Believes Everyone Deserves To Eat

BurnBox Pizza is a different kind of restaurant. The Kettering, MD-based pizzeria believes its food should not only be delicious, it should be a part of the community. Founded in 2019 by Ryan Whitfield and Shawndell Pullam, the chain donates a pie to someone in need in the community every time one is purchased. 

This pizza-for-a-pizza mentality is one honed by years of experience from Pullam and Whitfield. With the motto “everyone deserves to eat,” BurnBox is changing how a pizzeria fits into a community. The black-owned company hopes to reach 1 million pizza donations.

For Whitfield, it all started when he and Pullam met in high school at basketball tryouts. Though Whitfield made the team that year and Pullam did not, the two forged a life-long friendship that soon became a business partnership.

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“I’m a pizza connoisseur,” Whitfield told Garden & Health. “I lived in Cali, New York City, Atlanta, and DC, and I was always grabbing a slice, studying what made it good. Even when we were doing other things, I was always eating everybody else’s pizza.”

“Shawndell and I ventured into Smoothie Kings, and we built that to six stores in two years, but we felt like we couldn’t leave Smoothie King to our kids,” he continued.

“We could only have an effect on the community if we had our own business, so we decided to go with pizza.”

Without telling Whitfield, Pullam went back to school and used the donation concept as his case study. That helped develop the brand and eventually led to the idea of giving a pizza away for everyone sold.

“That’s how our mission started,” Whitfield said. “We knew we wanted to have an impact on the community. It’s not just about us. We’re the engine to provide the fuel.”

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Today, the restaurant is partnering with local churches, Feeding America, Prince George’s County Food Equity Council, and the Maryland Food Bank to donate the pies. They recently worked with Green Bay Packer Rashid Walker’s Football Camp, bringing 200 pizzas to hundreds of kids.

But BurnBox isn’t just any pizza. Named after the brick oven they are cooked in, the pies get just 20 seconds in a 600-degree oven for a perfect crust.

They are crafted by years of business and personal study from the founders and tailored with unique, gourmet flavors that reflect Maryland’s food heritage. 

Although customers can create their own topping combos, it’s the specialty pizzas that stand out. Those flavors include local seafood, mac and cheese, and an elote.

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“The Crab Catcher is my favorite pizza we make,” Whitfield said. “It taps into this area’s DNA for seafood, especially crabs, and it allows us to be creative.”

“After two years in business, you get a lot of comparisons to other pizza brands, and it’s helped us realize that the gourmet pizza is what makes us stand out,” he continued. “These have a flavor profile of their own; now that we understand that lane, it changes the trajectory of where we can go.”

The two current stores — one in Watkins Park and one in Waldorf — already have the polished, sleek look of a national chain. The stores were designed by Whitfield, who has a style background and once worked as a design director for rapper 50 Cent.

But for Whitfield, a Maryland native, at the end of the day, BurnBox is most important about connecting the business with those in need in the community.

Photo Courtesy Now Open Media

“As we expand, it’s not just about expansion,” he added. “It’s about picking the right towns and communities where we can truly have a positive impact.”

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