"What each of these entrepreneurs have in common is that theyve found their niche having taken the ordinary pizza and thought outside the box to put their own spin on it."
Jim Winship - PAPA
During the first ever National Pizza Week taking place from the 22nd – 28th November, the organisers at The Pizza, Pasta & Italian Food Association (PAPA) are sharing the stories of ‘pizza-preneurs’ earning their crust and making a career through opening their own pizzerias.
Jim Winship, Director of PAPA said: “Pizza is not just a delicious dinner, it can be an extremely lucrative career choice as these talented chefs are proving. What each of these entrepreneurs have in common is that they’ve found their niche having taken the ordinary pizza and thought outside the box to put their own spin on it.”
The Fast-Firing Foodie Taking the UK by Storm
Founder and CEO Fireaway
Number of employees: 500
31-year-old Mario Aleppo, from Mitcham is the founder and CEO of the award winning Fireaway pizza chain, a unique ‘Subway-style pizzeria’ that delivers fresh, home-made and infinitely customisable pizzas cooked in 180 seconds.
Mario started his business in 2016 with one store and three employees. Within five years (and during a global pandemic) that has grown to an astounding 94 stores with over 500 employees. Here he shares his journey so far:
“I am a big foodie, so I knew I wanted to work with food,” said Mario. “My first thought was to open a Subway franchise, which was what I had planned to do, but being Italian myself, I noticed a gap in the market for an authentic pizzeria that could be classed as ‘fast food’. By that I mean that in terms of how quickly we deliver it, I’m very particular on the ingredients we use – we always use homemade tomato sauce and dough made fresh every day in store.
“I decided to combine the two ideas and so I started the business five years ago with a bank loan and just one employee. It’s been a real whirlwind; I now have 500 employees, with 94 stores up and down the country open and more in the pipeline.
“Our pizzas are created in a Subway-style – you can have unlimited toppings in any combination. They are then fast fired in 180 seconds, hence the name Fireaway. The price is affordable too, that was important to me. We’ve obviously hit the mark as the business has really taken off. I can’t open the stores fast enough to meet demand.
Fireaway is receiving industry recognition too, last year the brand was awarded the PAPA Small Pizza Chain 2019 and at this year’s ceremony it has been shortlisted for the Big Pizza Chain – marking the exponential growth it has seen.
The Inspired Traveller Seeking Out Better Gut Health
Stefano Di Vita
Founder: The Pizza Pony
Number of employees: four
In 2005 Stefano Di Vita was travelling to the Colombian jungle to live out his dream of visiting the Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) inside the Tairona Park near Santa Marta. To protect him on the trip, Stefano was required to get two vaccinations for malaria and yellow fever – and this would change his life forever and eventually lead him to set up a successful pizza business that champions the use of fresh yeast.
Two weeks after the vaccines Stefano began to feel unwell. He was tired all the time and each time he ate certain foods such as bread, pizza, pasta, cheese, meat, wine and coffee he suffered with stomach-ache, constipation, headaches and depression.
Doctors back home diagnosed a candida infection, which can affect the body when the immune system is low. They prescribed antibiotics and cortisone but Stefano felt even worse than before and so he began follow the Anti Candida diet and make dietary changes in a bid to control his symptoms. He began to feel much better, but he missed the foods he was previously able to eat until that is he discovered sour dough.
Sour dough is full of good bacteria which helped Stefano to fight the candidiasis. He felt great after eating it and from thereon in began to make it his mission to share the health benefits of sour dough with as many people as possible. It can even be eaten by those who are diabetic. He started a mobile pizzeria in Italy and has since moved to the UK where he met Paolo Cacace and together, they founded The Pizza Pony.
Stefano employs four people and makes around 500 pizzas a week.
It's thought that up to 60% of the European population could be suffering with candida without knowing it and it is now his mission to spread the word.
He said: “All my passion about healthier pizzas and my whole career to date has come as result of my food intolerance after that trip in the Colombian jungle. That has been the motor to move me forward. Next year I have big plans to take the business to the next level, but more importantly I’m feeling much better and like my old self again.”
The Female Philosopher in Pursuit of Perfect Pizza
Name: Viv Durrant
Status: Married with 3 kids (Ages 15, 14, 11). They all work/help to some extent in the business
“With five inhouse-trained women kicking out 80 Neapolitan pizzas per hour I felt extremely proud. There can't have been many pizzerias in the UK (even the world) doing that.”
Viv Durrant, founder/owner of Porter Pizza in Sheffield has a degree in philosophy and another in physiotherapy, but from a young age, she always felt that running her own pizzeria was her calling. When her youngest child went to school, it felt like the perfect time to follow her dreams.
“I've had the idea of opening a wood-fired pizza place for as long as I can remember, and now that I have, I absolutely love it. We're a small, neighbourhood pizzeria that focuses on making quality authentic Neapolitan pizza.
“We wanted to create a relaxed informal space that aims to feel warm and welcoming to our customers, most of whom are local regulars. Most of our business is takeaway but we've maximised the seating in our small space so that more of our customers can enjoy their pizza hot and fresh from the oven. The open kitchen was something I insisted on, so customers can watch their pizzas being made which also adds to the intimate feel. On weekend evenings particularly, we do high volumes, and the atmosphere can be really buzzing.
We employ around 10 staff, a mixture of full-time staff on permanent contracts and casual front of house staff. We've grown steadily over the last six years with a reliable seasonal pattern with peak sales through the summer. The Covid pandemic brought a particular increase in sales with us selling over 500 pizzas a day on some Saturdays in the summer of 2020. We'd ideally like larger premises so that we could have more seating and we wouldn't have to put so many of our beautiful pizzas into cardboard boxes, but our location is good, so we haven't moved yet. People keep asking if we're going to open a second place but as a perfectionist, I'm not sure I'm suited to remote management.
Working in this industry it is very male dominated, especially the online community, no one expects to be speaking to a female pizza chef or business owner online. Being a female head chef in an all-male team definitely feels like you’re smashing some barriers. On the flip side I really love it when I get great female employees, particularly those who get really skilled on our woodfired oven as this skill in particular is one that I rarely see women doing. At one point I had a very strong set of female employees who I chose to use on our busiest weekend shifts. With five inhouse-trained women kicking out 80 Neapolitan pizzas per hour I felt extremely proud. There can't have been many pizzerias in the UK (even the world) doing that at that time.
Pizza is simple but it should be perfect! It's for everybody and it's sociable. Pizza is about friendship and warmth.
My advice to anyone looking for a career in pizza is to be brave and do it. Customers respect and value high quality food, so there will always be a market for pizza done well. Have faith in your product but work hard to maintain that quality.