Michael Tingsager: 3:10
Today we're here with Tom from Pizza Pilgrims and we're gonna be talking about happiness, and pizza. And we agreed not to talk about Bruce Springsteen as this is a shared passion of ours, not a guarantee.
But welcome to the show Tom, I'm really been looking forward, we have been back and forward a couple of times to make the date work because we really wanted to make it happen. And then the universe just kept on putting barriers down.
Thom Elliot: 3:36
The universe presented us with that we basically live on the same road. Which is kind of weird, but kind of excellent.
Michael Tingsager: 3:42
It should have made things easier.
Thom Elliot: 3:46
Surprisingly it was, yeah, Center Parks and various other things going around in the world.
Michael Tingsager: 3:50
So the first thing I really wanted to dive into, because what people are really listening into is that, can you tell me a bit about why you and James came together and wanted to create a pizza business of all the things you can do in the world?
Thom Elliot: 4:06
Of all the things you can do in the world? I think. Yeah, I mean, it's been 10 years ago now. So it feels like you know, you've got to really dig into the depths of your mind to remember why. But I mean, the bottom line is we both had our sort of proper jobs, quote, unquote, straight out of uni. And we just didn't really enjoy them. We were just not enjoying them. James was working in TV. I was working in advertising, and I just, I just was not getting any joy out of it. And we'd always grown up in pubs and around hospitality businesses living above pubs since we were like six, who James has made before.
And so yeah, had that sort of in our blood, I guess. And, you know, we'd wanted to we talked about trying to start a pub, we didn't have enough money to do it. And then we were just we were in the pub one night having a couple of beers as you do. I think we will say it was somewhere between the third and fourth point that we were like, we're going to do is we're going to start a pizza business around a proper wood-fired oven with, you know, some kind of vehicles carried around and try and join this sort of burgeoning street food scene that was happening in London at the time. And yeah, I mean, it was a half-formed half-drunk idea. So scribbled on the back of a beer in a pub. But yeah, it's been a crazy journey ever since. And we've, yeah, I guess we've never really looked back.
Michael Tingsager: 5:28
Why did you land on pizza? Because you agreed it has to be, you know, good quality pizza would have been 10 years ago. That was like still news. In the pizza world. In the UK? It was more normally electric pizza, a lot of hyper-processed stuff. But what made you think that it has to be pizza is like, is there any specific reason for that?
Thom Elliot: 5:51
There was a couple of sorts, I mean, it wasn't a kind of like, I don't want to sit here and say it was like, you know, ever since we were five, we wanted to be pizza, purveyors. But there are a couple of things. I mean, James had done a cooking course in Italy and seen the prevalence of pizza ovens in people's gardens and homes and what have you. And it's obviously like, no, the alternative to having a barbecue is to have a woodfired pizza of not just for cooking pizza and for cooking in whatever, like a domed wood oven who'd had that sort of formative experience.
And we, we were looking at the street food scene, and basically, you know, the pizza decision, it kind of came down to something really rather sort of boring and cold, which was looking at the street foods, and it was really starting to take off at that time. There was no one doing pizza. And I think, you know, the time that felt like a bizarre, because it was like, Well, surely this is just such a staple for the, you know, it's a food you want at a festival. But what quickly became clear is, you know, it's, it's much more of a barrier to entry to get into pizza as a street food van than it is a burger because you know, you can set up a burger store with a griddle plate that cost you 50 quid, and you can carry it under your arm basically.
Whereas for a pizza, you need obviously a big oven that cost you a lot of money, and also requires a pretty serious vehicle to get it around. So yeah, I guess you know, as usual, we sort of were like, oh, pizza, it's obvious. Why don't we do that? And then all the other reasons why people didn't do pizza flooded in but we carried on regardless.
Michael Tingsager: 7:23
But it's also you call it the founders native when you start a business. And that's sometimes where the magic happens as well, due to counterintuitive than everybody else doing the hard bit that the non-scalable bit sometimes.
Thom Elliot: 7:39
We constantly talk about how little we knew about running, despite having kind of grown up in pubs, we've never really run them. So yeah, that kind of lack of kind of 20 years of restaurant experience, just made us make decisions so differently in the early days, and so many of the things that we do today, we do because, you know, we started from a very different, very different place. And I think it's what helped us remain special from the beginning.
Michael Tingsager: 8:05
And then you decided to go to Italy?
Thom Elliot: 8:09
Yes, we had decided to go to Italy originally for a very cold hard reason that it was just going to be cheaper to buy the van there. But actually, once we realized that obviously, we knew nothing about pizza at all. This idea of picking the van up there to save money, but also driving back and learning about pizza while going to sort of crucial pizza places on the way started to take shape. And we'd kind of start to draw up a little map of the place. And I think we'd I told my employer that we'd be away for about 10 days, maybe something like that. And yeah, I just very vividly remember pulling out of that. Pulling out of that garage in Reggio Calabria really realized quite how slow a PRP van is, and that you're not allowed to take it on the motorway. So I think, yeah, after a week, we were nowhere near home.
But yeah, and I mean, the strange thing that happened, I guess was that we had this idea for the trip we were just sent off to do it. And then keep the long story short, I emailed one of my bosses and the advertising agencies I worked in and said, We're gonna go and start this pizza company, and I hear you're leaving to start a bakery. She was one of the senior people. It'd be great to go for a beer and talk about us both going to bake things. And so we went around to her house in Camden, it turned out how her husband was a very famous food writer called Tim Hayward didn't know that. And he was the guy who's like this trip to Italy is amazing. You've got to like absolutely make the most of it.in I think it came out about: Michael Tingsager::
Did it also help you clarify what Pizza Pilgrims was all about? doing the things I did get help the clarity around, you know, the proposition, you know, the quality you wanted to do? Because it happened by accident? Almost because of you?Thom Elliot::
I mean, the short answer is no, I don't know whether the world just didn't talk in missions and North Stars then or whether we just didn't know about that stuff. Or whether we just you know, we really didn't set out to make Pizza Pilgrims on our lives today. It was honestly for me, really, it was something to get me out of advertising. And to prove that I could do something that wasn't just advertising because it was his back. And it was just after the first crash really until I once you want, you picked your career. You're very much railroaded in that career. And I was trying to get out of it. So it was like, well, I'll go and do this with James. Realistically, I don't think this business is going to support both of us. But I'll go and do it with James. You know, I'll do it for a year, prove that I could start something up, and show a bit of initiative.
And then hopefully from there, I can go and change tack. So yeah, that we didn't we didn't. We didn't kind of set out on this journey to do this massive thing that's, you know, so much bigger and more amazing than we could possibly have ever imagined. I guess the one moment of clarity that pilgrims did bring is like, sounds quite trite, but sat down in Dema Cali for the first time in the seat where Julia Roberts and having that pizza and being like, I've never tasted anything like this before. But how do we just if we can take this and just recreate it in London? I mean, game on that that was a moment of like, How can something this delicious have existed for 20 years of my life and may not have tasted it? So yeah, it was that that was probably the most clarifying moment of that trip.Michael Tingsager::
Do you think it had had an impact further down the journey? As you did that early on? And then that had helped you really clarify that? What do you expect from the business? How do you want to do things?Thom Elliot::
Hugely. So, and I think the sort of the, I mean, there's so many ways, I think that what it stood for obviously became the name of the business, which we didn't know at the time, but like, what it stood for, in terms of, you know, just kind of have a go attitude. And just, you know, let's do something a bit crazy. But also all the people we met and like the passion and energy that they put into what they do. So whether that's making mozzarella or making flour or making pizza, obviously, like, that stuff just really rubs off on you. And you're like, we know if we're going to do pizza, we want it to be the best pizza you can get. And that's the amazing thing about pizza is you can it's one of the few foods I think where you can genuinely go. We want this to be the best it can be and still be an affordable option for everyone. So that is that's been a really nice thing that we can genuinely endeavor to make the best and buy the best and we can still charge you sign up to 10 quid for a margarita.Michael Tingsager::
In your happiness manifest us says that pizza brings happiness to the world. How does pizza do that?Thom Elliot::
I kind of do. No. And I don't know, obviously like, you know, there's probably we just wrote this book. And we, we asked a lot of people we interviewed a lot of people for the book. And that's everything from like, Franco Pepe who sort of accepted as one of the greatest pizza chefs in the world to CEO of Pizza Hut to, you know, the Operations Director of Domino's, like Peter is from New York all over the world. And we asked all of them, why does pizza make people happy? Why does pizza have this special place? In humanity? Because when you go online, people talk about pizza, like they talk about their spouse. It's kind of like the thing they turned to in two hours of need.
And, you know, all those T-shirts, you see like pizza is my boyfriend and like all that stuff. Like, you just don't get that with hamburgers or tacos. It just doesn't it's not there. So the answers that came back were incredible. I mean, some people were one person touched on this democratic thing of like, it's one of the few things that you can aspire to have the best. Not many people could have the best car or the best house, or maybe even the best steak, but you could definitely have the best pizza and I think that's really interesting. There was someone who said, cuz it's round. So like you kind of feel it you can kind of share it lets you in there was someone saying about you know, flavor combinations.
There are so many things because your hands and it's very like therefore very kind of like caveman visceral. There were so many good answers. Uh, I mean, it's just I think it's probably a combination of all those things. It's you know, it's a thing that you, you kind of comes to you like you know, nowadays in a magic box, you know, that's kind of just arrives at your door. Share it with me to us, you're doing it fun, you know, fun time, you're usually having it for watching a game or watching a movie. Limitless combinations of the toppings. There are so many reasons, and I just think there are so you never have a bad pizza. Like, I mean, I can't think of a time in my life where I've had a pizza and gone that was inedible. But again, that does happen. You can have an inedible hamburger for sure. Can you have an edible pizza? I just don't know if you can. And so yeah, it just it never lets you down, which is obviously kind of really what you'd want from any human you were going to be friends with.Michael Tingsager::
It's a very powerful thing. There's bringing people together as a share of the joy of sharing something, and it's about exactly something everybody can afford to have something good off. Yeah, in the world, especially when we talk about in today's world, with, you know, the food crisis.Thom Elliot::
You also talk in the happy manifesto, you talk about how you cannot make everybody happy. What was the thinking around that quote?Thom Elliot::
Well, I guess that's what I just touched on there is like, you know, everyone loves pizza. I mean, I know, by just by saying this, all the people that don't have pizza will come out of the woodwork. But you know, it's a great option. If you're like, getting people around, or you know, it's pretty unlikely that someone won't be obvious you got the rise of gluten-free and vegan and all that stuff, which we're catering for now. But pizza is, you know, it's a word that like peps you up? You know, it's not a word this Oh, broccoli, you know? So I think, yeah, you know, I think pizza is one of those great things that just, you know, always, always is always a popular choice. I feel like there's no most exciting answer in the world. But yeah, it's just, it's just a funny quote, I can't remember where the quote came from. I think it might be like a Bill Murray quote, or something like that.Michael Tingsager::
Oh, yeah, that's that gives good sense when you say that? Yeah. So as you've been on this journey, how have you all this come together? You know, your journey to Italy? Happiness manifesto, the value? You're very clear, you know, how did that all come together to build the culture you want to do? And how is that, you know, how do you build a maintain a culture like that, and especially, you know, the times we've just been through with the pandemic really challenged us, you know, all our beliefs and behaviours as business owners and leaders?Thom Elliot::
Yeah, I mean, it's really hard, I think. I think something that we do struggle with at Pizza Pilgrims, I think is that we see ideas as quite disposable because we have quite a lot of them. So like, we'll have an idea, we'll do it. It'll be good or bad, or indifferent. And then we'll never think about it again. And in some ways, that's great, because it means we're constantly doing fresh things, and innovating and trying new things, in many ways, like some of our biggest successes, we can end up just like becoming a blip, because, you know, we should be focusing on the stuff that worked really well. And like doing it again, God forbid. But I think the answer to your question is not to do that. I think it's basically picking what you're about, and then just keeping at it. And I think that that, you know, we've got to keep talking about these values until, you know, we obviously we know them, well, we talk about them a lot. To us. It's almost boring. Now, as we know, these letters flow, what's the next message, but actually, it's not about the next message. It's about keeping those making sure everybody knows that everybody understands them. Everybody lives and breathes them and has the opportunity to live and breathe them.
And I think, I think without Yeah, I think the danger would be to kind of constantly trying to bring new stuff in. And I think we know, we know we're about now these are the things that have got us here. You know, the things we were practising on the market stall by accident, I think we've managed to like bottle what they're about. Obviously, we're not getting it perfect, and we never will. There are too many of you, which just still blows my mind. But we need to keep at it and keep that clarity of message of like, we are here to make people's day to meet people that little bit happier. Whether you're a team member, a customer, or have frankly any interaction with Pizza Pilgrims or supplier, you know, delivery driver, I don't care like pizza box is here to make your day a little bit better. And that that's the bit that we've got to keep remembering. And I think I think the way to do that is through our values.is by having one message for: Michael Tingsager::
It is interesting. The church is all about rituals. And as you've talked about it, we sometimes just try to innovate too much, and actually, forget the foundation of what actually brought us here and actually bring us together.Thom Elliot::
Completely, completely. So trying to you know, that some of our most successful things have become ritualistic. So like, Ferragosto, every year, we kind of have a day off. It's an Italian holiday, obviously, originally, but everyone gets together. And it's just, you know, it's a nice sort of, quote, unquote, Family Day. And that's something that we've done every year, and it's, you know, bringing us closer together and trying to find more of those rituals that remind us of why we're here. And what we're doing it for is a really big part of getting this right.Michael Tingsager::
So interesting. You also talked about that you sometimes have done some things where you thought, Okay, well, we move on, we have done this, you're gonna give an example of there where you maybe can something you find out then wow, we just dropped something quite amazing here.Thom Elliot::
I mean, there are just so many examples of like, marketing initiatives that we've done, or you know, I mean, a classic one is specials, pizza specials that we've done that, you know, we did it for a month, they're great. And then we never revisited them ever again. And it's like, why why did we not, you know, bring back the ones that we know, are fantastic. I think it's just that constant desire for that innovation, we've done that we've got we can't do that again. But that's silly. And I think yeah, so you know, there's a lot of good examples in the menu and in food where we've we've dropped things and not come back to them when we should have done. I think things like some of our you know, some of our more kind of silly things that we had our fifth birthday, and we had five coming headlines the party, just because it felt silly and fun. And we've never like revisited that kind of party of just like, just have a band.
And, you know, that sounds like a semi-famous band because a lot of what we're about is kind of pop culture, but kind of yesteryear pop culture. So trying to bring more of that to the fore would be really cool. But you know, we just, we never, we never go back, we're always looking at the next thing we'd like to say is great in many ways. But you know, you look at a lot of great businesses, and they, you know, when they find something that works, they just do it over and over again. And we're just not we've not done that so much.Michael Tingsager::
Is there any business that Pizza Pilgrims are looking at, when it comes to building a culture where you get inspired from because where they have this consistency, and the rituals you're talking about? It's any, anyone you could share?Thom Elliot::
I mean, there are just so many, I mean, the one that always comes back to and we talk about it a lot, it's Timpson's. They're a very famous English, shoe repairing company. And we were lucky enough through a sort of weird connection to spend a day with John Timpson about seven or eight years ago. And he has this just incredible philosophy around upside-down management. And you know, the most important people in the company, the people serving the customer, everyone else is there to support them. But you just have so many thoughts that I 100% agree with around like, you know, budgeting like you know, to write down a budget that tells you what you're going to be making in three years' time is, is a complete waste of everyone's time.g shoes, which no one does in:
Because no one has a camera that needs development anymore, snappy snaps are still in every high street in the country. I'm sure they have plenty of ways but they know they adapt every time you walk past and they've got a new service that they offer you and also just lovely things like that. Do a lot of stuff hiring ex, ex-cons, which we're starting to do now in the academy. But there was a really long time after the first crash, they did a thing where, if you were going for a job interview, they would dry clean your suit for free.
And it's just like, what I love about that is there's a real human at the beginning of that, that idea that the kernel of that idea was not trumped up in a boardroom or by a marketing team, it was dreamt up by a human being going, what is it, you really need when you're, you know, you're going for your first job interview? And it's like that little bit of confidence, how can we help with that, oh, we can make your suit look great. I love that there's such a simple, simple thought. And I think I really want us to do more stuff like that, like bring, make sure that everyone knows that, you know, pizza poems are still run by humans who have like ideas that are flawed, but also just real.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. As a great example, because they are started themselves myself a bit because it's really fascinating. This, you know, the business has been handed down the family, and their constant focusing on just being 1%. Better. 1% 1% Not when some kind of crazy thing, yeah, hit some crazy, crazy targets. It's like, we're going to be 1% better tomorrow than it was yesterday, or today. And they just focus on that all the time and sometimes go wrong, we go back and we move on. And then they build that resilience when the storm comes. And everybody in the organization knows they're safe? Because there's total transparency, as you say, with the bottom-up both on numbers and what is expected from you.Thom Elliot::
Completely, it was something he said to me that I just thought was so true is not punishing the many for the kind of actions of the few. Yeah, so if someone you know, they haven't got unbelievably 1000 plus stores, they haven't got a centralized till system that tells her office what, you know, every tear, Every store has got no electronic till, and they do all their own numbers, and they send it by email to the head off. It's just completely, you know, it's completely sort of humanly done. But you know, if a store you know, is down on the money, someone's been putting a hand in the tail, or something that's going wrong, another company would go right, this thing has happened to make sure it never happens. Again, we're going to put in this huge policy, we're going to put in tills in every store, we're going to like tie in every single bowl, it will never happen again on my watch.And actually, that's .: Michael Tingsager::
What you're talking about there, as well as something I wanted to ask you about, as well as like leadership, philosophy and leadership approach mindset impacts the culture and the way you deal with things when things happen, because your culture really comes to life when things go wrong. How have you, you know, one of the founders and how you as founders work with actually ensuring that from day one that you know, these kinds of thinking approach thing is really implemented as you grow? Because that's a really hard bit.Thom Elliot::
Yeah, well, I think, you know, where I and James always come from is sort of a position of just ridiculous forgiveness, I guess, like we let you know, in the early days, like, honestly, we let things happen that we shouldn't have let happen, and not given the kind of, and we didn't do enough to follow up with them. In terms of, you know, someone makes a mistake, you let them off, and then they do it again, and then let them off again. And I think, you know, I guess we were trying to build a breed a culture of trust, I suppose in that it's like, you know, we're all in this together, if you make a mistake, we're here to support you.
What you quickly get to with that is all the people around them who are doing the right things looking up going well, if that person's not being held accountable for doing that, then this whole thing is going to fall to bits. And so like that idea of like there's got to be lined, and there's got to be real clarity over like, this is what you can do this, what you can't do, if you repeatedly are on the wrong side of that line, you have to take action not because of that person, particularly but because of the people around them. So you end up you know, always on the flip side of what we were just talking about. There's a team of 20 and one people underperforming or breaking the rules or whatever. In order to do the best for everyone.
You know that you probably have to remove that one person because the 90 and others will feel well thank you for it. Yeah. And so that's the bit that I think we were on the wrong side of it when we first started Pizza Pilgrims and I think we now you know, through Gavin, who's our MD and all of the exec team, like there's a real understanding now between us and like where the red lines are, and how best to deal with it, and you know, always with a view to giving people a second chance, and I understand that people make mistakes. But also, we're a team. And if you're repeatedly letting down your team, we're not going to stand for it.Michael Tingsager::
And I guess that's, that's a natural development as well if you don't come from, from the background of building a large team and so on, you have to get these learnings and yeah, it'll be human. And I think there's very human and you know, we need everybody needs a second chance.Thom Elliot::
Absolutely. You know, I really, really fundamentally believe that, and we've had so many examples of computer programs, you know, both, giving people a second chance to come back. But also when people do go, you know, and people obviously move on and they go travelling and they change jobs. Of course, they do. But when they come back, that's the moment that I'm just like, we did something right, when people leave and come back to Pizza Pilgrims afterwards. I feel so proud of that because it feels like you're definitely doing something right. If that's the case.Michael Tingsager::
It's very interesting. One of my previous CEOs at McDonald’s, Steve Shillington, back in Denmark, and I left after three years, and he was he said, we'll see you again, I thought, not this time, not a third time, and I came back a third time. So it's credibility to the leaders and the systems, you're part of that actually, you want to come back. Because you just need to go and try something. Sometimes, people, everybody needs to go and try something. And I think that's from an industry point of view, I think it's really interesting. Sometimes we just need to let them run, they will come back again if you've done your job.Thom Elliot::
100%, you know, there's no point in building up loads of walls around them, because you know, people will, people will absolutely be able to get out. But it's exactly that one, you know, building something that they want to come back to. And I think that that's the bit that we've got to remember is, you know, what, what would it what do you need to build to make people come back? I think it's so, so fascinating. And I think, yeah, it's something that, you know, we work, we work really, really hard to make just the little things count at Pizza Pilgrims. I think it's very easy for people to put, you know, here's the amazing trip that we're doing, you know, on LinkedIn, look at this one moment in time where I photographed everyone, and they were smiling. Those kinds of statements are fine.
But quite often, they're a plaster for bigger issues. To me, it's like the day-to-day stuff that you've got to get right. It's like every single day, you come to work 364 days a year. Hopefully not actually, you have days off. But however many days a year, like we want those days to be good, not just the day when you went and had a massive pie, that that, you know, that stuff that that little stuff of like, the day to day just looking after each other and making sure that you know, you're being paid right and on time, and you know, that you get fed properly. And that, you know, all that stuff is happening as a natural. And I think you know that some of that naivety stuff, I think, you know when people talk about some of the stuff they do for their employees, and I'm like, I can't believe you're talking about this as if it's like something amazing. This is just such, a non-event thing for us. Trying to, you know, trying to try to have those things just so baked in that it's like never questioned.
But you know, those things do get questions and you got to fight with us. When you know, the investors come in and go, well, we should not be giving everyone pizza every day. It's like, Absolutely, as the classic example is coffee, we give think of a little coffee we buy more than two-thirds of it goes to our team, we give so much more coffee to the team than we give to the customers. So like any, you know, any money person looking in would be like, just get rid of the coffee and you'll make more money. But actually, you know, our guys really want to have lots of coffee. So great. Let's keep doing it. Yeah, let's do more of it. So yeah, I think those kinds of things, just those everyday things are really important that we don't lose them because they can easily get like scrubbed out.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah, I guess it becomes from where the counterintuitive things sometimes if the spreadsheet says but a counterintuitive thing said yeah, it might not give business sense. But to give lots of things. Yeah, in a cultural setting, actually take that away. They'll be you know, riots.Thom Elliot::
Completely. And those are the things that we've got to keep pushing on, like, what are those human things that just give people that lovely little reason to come to work?Michael Tingsager::
As we all know, coffee and pizza are very important in life, and beer and beer. Yeah. Also, you talked a bit about as you've been growing the business, what has your approach been to growth because you didn't set out say we want to make 1000 restaurants and you know, be the next McDonald's or so on. So what is the approach to growth because growth is very connected to the purpose of culture? I believe that the way you think about growth and how you approach it,Thom Elliot::
Yeah, I mean, the first thing is that like for both me and James like this is so way beyond what we set out to do that actually, you know, we just feel like we're in this kind of, you know, Neverland, basically. Which is, which is fine. I think, you know, from a growth point of view. We've never been particularly obsessed with growth, I think Probably the only thing that made a setup and goes growth really important is providing an opportunity for the team, that if you're not growing, you know, the great people you have, probably won't be able to stay with you, not because they didn't love working with you, but because you're just not gonna provide them with the opportunity they need. You know, you can't go up the ranks you can't there's not, there's no headroom for you to kind of develop yourself.
So that probably, for me, and James is the number one reason that we grow. I just have like pure terror around like people saying, we need to open X number of pizzerias this year, I'm just like, there need to be about 25 qualifiers in there because I'd prefer to open zero pizzerias if none of them are going to be great or exciting or different or provide something new. But you know, if we find five fantastic ones, they've all got like a real reason and a heart and a soul. And like, I totally get why this will be a good thing for us, then let's do the five. But let's not do five if there aren't five good ones to do. You know, we are still unfortunately not in the metaverse with Pizza Pilgrims. So like bricks and mortar and locations. And you know, that stuff can't be magic out of thin air.
And I think you know, what we've seen from some of our peers, I guess, is just growing too quickly in that you lose, you know, you lose what you set out to do that special. But if you grow too slowly, you'll also lose it because you'll lose the people that made it special. So we've tried to like the balance that I think we've done, we've done a pretty good job we've got you to know, we've got some people in the company who would want us to go faster because some people would probably want us to go slower. And you know, we just try and try and as always, the answer to most things lies somewhere in the middle.
And we try and we try and balance that. So yeah, we've got some openings coming up, but we've not got loads and loads. So yeah, it's just making sure that we one of our investors very early on, said to us, like make sure you've always squared away the last one you opened before you open the next one. Yeah, and I think we've I've always had that in the back of my mind. Like if, if I feel like we've not obviously, you know, everything's always developing, but if I feel like we've got one that's got particular problems, try and try and slow down the rush until that one's got it's got its raison d'etre.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. Because suddenly it will become even bigger if you don't deal with the problem. Yeah. Often it starts to become a cultural problem, not just a commercial problem.Thom Elliot::
That's when the tail wags the dog. Yeah, sure. So yeah, but you know, we, when we remember when we had Dean Street, and it was just me and James, you know, and Anton Molina, of course, and, and a few others think Davidad was that was the end like, we just couldn't imagine having to pizzerias. We were like, there's just so much to do. And this is so yeah, there are so many things I want to fix. And I still feel like that I still feel like, we could take two years out from Pizza Pilgrims, and from opening new restaurants, and just focus on like, cool, innovative stuff for our existing state. I feel like we could fill those days with no problem at all. But if you do that, you know, you're not providing opportunities for more people. So you've got to you've just got to strike that balance.Michael Tingsager::
It is super interesting. It's also about growth, it's also about opportunity for your people and actually making sure you progress to progress in a way that everything is in balance. This, of course, is a master act in everything in life. Yeah. What about the people your talks about? It's about growing your people? What do you do you do? What do you do, actually, to make sure they keep on moving today move 1%, as the business does every day.Thom Elliot::
So this is, you know, this is where I just take my hat off to the team, I think, you know, we've always been about developing people and trying to give people opportunities to be better and grow into, into stuff. And I think that's where, certainly Gavin our MD and Haley, and Leanne, and the people team, like the academy was was sort of minor, James's idea, I guess, to be like, Let's build somewhere, that's a semi-live environment that people can actually develop themselves, whether that's your first day on the job, and it's just a nice, you know, easy way to like, figure out how to do it, or whether you're the chairman of the company, and you're there to learn about social media, or, you know, whether you're a manager wanting to learn about stock control, like those kinds of we wanted a place where that kind of stuff can happen.
But being honest that I and James are not the 1% Everyday type people 100% believes it, I totally agree that that's the way to helpfully build something is like one brick at a time. Slowly, slowly, but we're useless at it because we're just like, unless it's like, big and fast and crazy. We're, you know, we just get probably the word is probably bored. We just have like very low attention spans. Speaking for James, he's not here. But I certainly have the attention span of a five-year-old. And this is where like, you know, Gavin and Haley and the people team like they have they've built you know, in that vision of like, how do we develop people in the right way they've built this amazing structure. Have everyone have proper reviews and proper targets and proper agreement, let you know if this is the step you want to get to, here's how we're going to get you there.
And I love you know, I love watching that play out and when we see are really great people, I think in the past because we're not very good at the 1% would over-promote. So we would find someone great or like this person is brilliant, and they were talking their own game and we'd be like, great, you know, you're a general manager, fantastic. You're gonna be an ops manager. And it felt good at the time. But then you'll just watch all of the good work just break because you're putting people in jobs they're not equipped to do. And as much as you know, at the time, it feels like well, I want to go up and I want to be there now. And I Why am I not there. Now, the number of times I've seen it, where you just over-promote someone who is great, but they're just not ready. And that is where Gavin and the team have been so great to be like cool, you want to get to here, this is how you get here. And it's not a two-month journey. It's a two-year journey or a three-year journey. But these are the steps you're going to take and we're going to check in with you. And we're going to provide you with these tools. And we're going to give you like, you know, a month shadowing this person.
And I just think that's magic when you see the end of that journey when you've been like I want to get from here to there. And I've been given the steps to get there. And I get there and I feel confident to do it. That is an amazing thing to me. And it's something that I think hospitality is so uniquely placed to do for people because you can develop quickly, you know, that same journey in a massive engineering company would probably take you 30 years. So I love watching it unfold but don't do it too quickly. And therein lies you know, a big part of that happiness thing with like, you know, knowing where you're going, given the tools to get there, you know, sit you know, feeling that feeling of satisfaction, when you do get there, when you're like, God I did that we did that together we got here. And if that's instantaneous, the gratification is instantaneous, but the reward is ebbed away quickly. So you know, I think I think building those real career journeys for people. And when we've got it, I'd love to see more examples. But we've got, you know, the five-year club is, is an ever-growing one.
Every year, we have more and more people who turn up, and we kind of celebrate, we just I mean, this year we went curling, I have no idea why it felt I've always wanted to go, and felt like a good thing to do. So we went curling went had a burger and a beer and it wasn't anywhere near enough to thank those people for everything they've done for us. But it is gratifying to see that club growing. And to see like people from all ranges within the company from you know, people who started with this as a waiter all the way up to, you know, a head chef or manager, an ops manager of the Tom melon is the greatest example it's been with the company for near enough 10 years now. One of I thinks maybe the fifth employee we ever had worked with us on the van and is now still I really believe that you know, such a fundamental part of the business and still growing and we're still learning, as we all are. So yeah, I think you know, those long journeys, and just making sure that every day is still a school day for people is is is really important to us.Michael Tingsager::
You talk a lot about you know, the connection on the internal bit. But I also know from looking and being a customer, myself, you really try to connect with the customers more, they're not just customers, they're not just a transaction. It's like a community and you really reached out to the community during the pandemic with the pizza at the home kit and yeah, so can you talk a bit about, you know, how have you approached that has that happened, again, by bit by you standing in the markets or building those relationships, it's crucial. But tell us a bit about that.Thom Elliot::
It's fascinating to like, the street food thing, is such unique thing. There is no job in hospitality where you engage with the customer, you take their order, you take their money, you make it in front of them, and then you give it to them. And then you watch the meter and get almost instantaneous feedback like that complete feedback loop, just, you know, there's no role in Pizza Pilgrims today that has that, as you either a chef or you're at the front of the house, or you're, you know, you're not seeing the whole picture. So, you know, I guess that started that. I would say, honestly, as a company, we obviously, you know, the customers are massively important to us. But we've always put more energy into the team. I think the philosophy has always been, if we look after the team and the team is happy, and they've got everything, they need to do a good job, the customer bit just falls out of that.
Because, you know, you could then go a happy team who feel confident to do it their way and own a situation and therefore, and that's very much the Timpson thinking of like, the customer bit is the output rather than something that we like, work on. I feel like we're still there, although, you know, we're starting to engage with our customers more. I mean, in a hugely controversial statement. I worry about, you know, all everyone anyone asked us now, particularly about marketing is, you know, what's your data strategy? How much data have you got? And what do you do with it? Like, what do you know, how much big, big data and how are you using that data to develop your offer and your proposition we do have some data. Honestly, we don't look at it. Like Ever, which is a mistake, I will put my hands up Gavin will be cringing right now.
But my worry is that like, data to me, it will just if you ask loads of people, what do you want from a pizzeria that you're going to end up with every pizzeria in the country being the same. And they will, you know, you'll be will have chips on the menu and we'll have chicken on the pizza. And I think we've got to, you know, we've got to be bigger than that. And I think what we're trying to do is more like sort of qualitative research around like get groups of people who have been on the journey with us and go like, you know, what do you love about Pizza Pilgrims what do you not love? Is the stuff that we've What have you done? Well, what have you done less? Well try and like, develop it that way, rather than we are 200,000 people, and they all said this? I just, to me, that's just not very human.at my approach is not okay in: Michael Tingsager::
It is interesting with the cell because recently, you heard about what Danny Meyer is spending a lot of his time on right now is actually moving around, and listening to customers and employees. He still looks at data, but he said I need to hear the stories before I can qualify if the data is confirming the right thing. Yeah. And the same with Howard Schultz, whom we just talked about this morning. Yeah, back into Starbucks. Now, the first thing he does is traveling around, trying to understand how people feel.Thom Elliot::
And that's the crucial thing is how people feel. And I love one of my favourite things to do unless it goes wrong. But it mostly doesn't, it just sit outside of Pizza Pilgrims. And just listen to what people say. And quite often, like and I recommend any of you to do it because you know, most of the time on its own I hate blowing my own trumpet or is all of your work. So then another day with me. People walk past and go, Ah, I love Pizza Pilgrims best pizza that place or we must go there again, all I had the best time there. Or that's my favourite pizza place in London or you hear those statements over and over and over again. And I think as much as it's not telling us anything about how you guys have made it so successful, it is just gratifying to sit and just listen to what people say.
Because those are the people that are really important. Not necessarily the people who are saying, Oh, my this was obviously we listen to the problems too. But it's so nice to hear the good stuff and I think so often, I go past all the good stuff, which is reams and reams. You know what? Scroll past thirty 5-star reviews, find a one-star one, and be like, it's a nightmare. Like it was all over like this person had a bad experience. And I've got to be better at that. Like there's so much good out there with these pilgrims just sitting and sitting and listening to it. So if you haven't, you know, one of those days, I thought about like, my worst just sitting and just listening to some of the customers and just hear what they say. Because nine times out of 10 You guys are doing an amazing job.Michael Tingsager::
It sounds like good gratitude. A good exercise to do.Thom Elliot::
Yeah, it's very, very sort of calming. To do that. I think it's a great thing.Michael Tingsager::
You're talking about data. And also I have to ask you about tech then what role does tech play because that has been the big, big play in the pandemic. And now as well tech is you know, the things that some people even been so extreme to say it's gonna save hospitality. But it seems like I guess you're from different places. But what role does tech play in scaling a business like yours?Thom Elliot::
So I have a real battle with this because, in my personal life, I'm sort of tech-obsessed. I love tech. I love things that make my life like point zero 2% better. And you know, so I have, you know, ludicrous things like watches that talk to phones, and God knows what else like all that stuff. I get it and I like it. My concern is that with hospitality. Anything tech takes is a layer between human-to-human contact, essentially. And human-to-human contact is what hospitality is all about. So the romantic in me wants to say that actually. It's the humanity that makes hospitality a thing that that that people want to keep doing. And that doesn't exist in a retail environment. You don't go to Topshop because of the connection you have with the store salesperson. You don't get to talk to us at all because it's gone.
But you know, that reader thing is about the stuff, and actually, if you can make that stuff quicker look at Amazon, you can just get the stuff to you without any of the noise People want that. But actually, the noise is what makes hospitality a great bit. And so if you, you know, even silly things like the McDonald's experience to me is lesser for going in and tapping on a screen. It's just you don't have that same, interaction, what's happening today was special. Yes, the screen churns out all the things you can buy, and yes, they sell more, because people are more willing to upgrade when they're not talking to a human. And then, you know, but I liked that interaction with a human and like, you know, weirdly, I had it yesterday and five guys, I took my son to Five Guys in Brighton and just got chatting to the guy behind the counter because we were waiting for it was very quiet weirdly for Five Guys that never happened. And, you know, how long have you been in this job for and he was saying he's gonna be an apprentice and he wants to work in at for Audi and he's got a job coming up. And it was just a lovely little moment that happened because we were waiting for and you know, Five Guys is not the place that you'd expect to have that kind of interaction.
But if that had been on the screen, it wouldn't have happened. And wouldn't have noticed that it hadn't happened, I wouldn't have. But my day definitely pointed to zero 2% better for it. So I really, so it's a long, long way of saying I want to put loads, I want to protect hospitality in these problems by not putting in loads of tech. That said, I do think there are use cases for you know, if I'm working in the city, and I've got half an hour lunch break, and I want to Pizza Pilgrims, but I also have to read a report for a meeting, I've got 130, I can 100% see how that guy or girl wants to come in order on their phone, pay on their phone, get the pizza and not interact with anyone, and just have that experience.
So I think you know, we're going to have to offer that experience. But we've got to make sure we don't do is offer it to the detriment of the people who don't want it. So I think we need to put in some tech that is seamless. So if you want to view like ordering on your phone, you know how to do it, you can do that entirely. If you don't have a mobile phone, don't know who that person is, you know, you can have the full old school experience and the old school experience should always be like primary experience. To me, it's like it's about that interaction like you know, it's what's the waiter's favourite dish or you know, those kinds of things that you can't get from a screen.Michael Tingsager::
It's interesting, it's about keeping the soul again, which you set out.Thom Elliot::
It is massively important. And that you know, that comes with it, the bumps and you know, the ups and the downs. And this kind of like completely formulaic, but guaranteed to not let you down version of the world is just boring. Like anything that's a sure thing is boring. So from my point of view, even when things go wrong, because of the human. That's what makes life great, rich tapestry, which I'm sure is incredibly bad business sense.Michael Tingsager::
What about the future? Tom? What are the business priorities? Right now? There's a lot of noise in general in the industry. But what are your Pizza Pilgrims' top priorities right now?Thom Elliot::
I think we're still we're just about looking to the horizon. Just about, obviously, there are huge challenges still coming at us. But we're, you know, we're feeling more on top of them than we have done ever. And so, you know, I think the future is this incredibly boring answer. But I think, for now, it's just like, keep building what we've built, there's nothing that I'm coming down the road that's like, we need to fundamentally flip this or we need to go and open in America or Continental Europe, or we need to start doing tacos because there's, you know, there's nothing exciting like that coming on. But keep, you know, keep sticking to our guns, like if we're going to open a pizzeria, feel really confident is the right thing to do that it's bringing something new to the table. I think, you know, again, hugely important for me is that we're a company doing the right thing by the world.
So we started our journey towards net zero. And we've we're you know, hiring a person to be dedicated to that, and like, see how we can be better. And you know that that journey is very much underway. The other one that we've started is B Corp, which is a sort of accolade that, you know, more and more businesses are getting now, which is great, which is it basically is a way to show that the business, you're running the business with a view to being better for everyone, not just profit-making. So it's you know, it's based on your input to the community, obviously, looking at your customer looking after your team looking after the planet. So, you know, it's a good sense to check that you are, you know, trying to run the business in the best possible way for humanity.
And so we're working on that on that journey as well. We're I think we're hoping, you know, we're one of the hoping to be one of the first people in hospitality to get it. I think that I'm only aware of one other hospitality company that has it currently. So you know, doing more of that stuff I think is going to be crucial. But yeah, I think, you know, as I was saying earlier, like the danger is you like, well, what's next? Well for the new things, and actually, you know, anything most great things that you know, most great brands or products that you let you know that they're not about radical change, they're about 1% Every day. Yeah. So I think the boring answer is to keep getting a little bit better every day.Michael Tingsager::
What does? What about the industry? How do you see that as being part of the industry for 10 years, where there's been lots of exciting development ran into the pandemic? And how do you see the coming years ahead, and there's a big play being played out right now? In general, in the industry, where all the costs are back? And, you know, yeah, everything just seems a bit more difficult. Again, the notch is just dialled up, even though we're back open.Thom Elliot::
Yeah, I 100% agree. I think, you know, everyone is finding it that bit more difficult. But I think, you know, there's a lot of people out there who, you know, because it's a bit harder than it was an hour going on? Well, it's all ruined, and like, you know, used to be really easy. And now it's really hard, and therefore, you know, it's never gonna be the same again. And I just, I just think at the core of what we do, there's such a fundamental human need of like meeting up and having a good time with your fellow people that, as it will survive, it will find a way for sure. But, yeah, I mean, I guess, you know, there's so much rise of like, quick service and that kind of stuff, like, you know, is that going to be? The next thing is? Is it about the food? Is it about the kind of interaction moment, obviously, delivery is a fascinating thing, because that you know, that's an ever-growing phenomenon?
And so, you know, there's one half of me is like, Absolutely, if we can provide that family meal moment at home, you know, then we've done our job. That's what we're there to do. But obviously, I also feel like Yeah, but it's not quite the same. It's not we're not quite got that full, that full Pizza Pilgrims hit. So yeah, well, you know, where to? Where's the inertia going? You know, I think I think there are still so many fantastic leaders in this business. I mean, you've had Will from Hawksmoor, I don't know if it was in this room, but he, you know, he's one of those people you just look up to and go like, if he's one of the people that was looking up to, actually the world is going to be fine.Michael Tingsager::
It is super interesting. What about your own learning, as a leader, over the last two years? What is the biggest one you take away from it?Thom Elliot::
The biggest learning I've had is, I mean, that the number one thing for me is knowing where my weaknesses are, and I have many, and then making sure that we have people who absolutely have those things are strengths. And I think we've now you know, my problem is that I always want everything to be perfect. Now, I know you look at Pizza Pilgrims ago is not perfect. But, you know, my brother's response to that is like, why are you running a restaurant business, then because, by definition, it will never be perfect. So probably, if it was just me running Pizza Pilgrims, we would have one pizzeria. And I would be like absolutely agonizing over every single part of it.
And we wouldn't be, you know, every decision would come with this, like an incredible amount of analysis, paralysis, and overthink. And actually, my brother's version of it is just crack on, like, the good things will, you know, the good things will rise to the top and the bad stuff will fall to the bottom, and it'll all be good. In the end. The answer is somewhere in the middle. I think that's why we're a good team. Yeah. And I chat to a few people who are working in the team and restaurants, I won't name any names, but it does feel like there is a thing of like, there's one who's like, just do it, what's the worst that could happen? And the devil is like, Have we thought of every possible outcome? And actually, you need both those people to get yes, I mean, that is because the the the crap won't sink to the bottom on its own, and the good rent right at the top, you've got to be constantly like peeling back the layers and looking and so but my learning is that you know, you've definitely got to, like, let things happen. Momentum is hugely important for a business.
And, you know, whilst I would love to be constantly, like, tweaking under the bonnet of everything, I think that that would come with a much slower, much less energetic business. And I think that would ultimately be a bad thing. So allowing, allowing things to happen that maybe not like as perfect as you had in your mind is crucial. And also seeing when things don't go so well and almost like celebrating that but like making sure that you know, we all kind of get together and go right that didn't go how we'd hoped. What do we do next? How do we make sure that doesn't happen again, that kind of stuff. And if you don't let stuff like that happen, you can't learn anything.Michael Tingsager::
How do you show up straight Only every day as a leader, how do you make sure that you are set out to succeed on the day?Thom Elliot::
Wow, that's a big question. I don't know, I guess like,Michael Tingsager::
Do you have like a practice you do or a framework?Thom Elliot::
Not Mark Wahlberg, I'm not getting up at 2 am to work out or anything like that. No, I think probably the number one thing I have is, which, you know, is a blessing and a curse. But it's like, being available, I guess, like, is my number one thing. So like, we've got this thing in the company called workplace now, so everyone's on it. So you know, whether you started yesterday, or you've been, you know, for five years, we're all on the same platform together, and anyone can message anyone. And, you know, I really encourage people to, like, contact me directly, if there's nothing I can do to help.
And quite often, I can't, but I can certainly like put pointing in the right direction and make sure that that person is engaged with your issue. So yeah, I think being available to help and not being kind of off doing other stuff, trying to be where the problems are, I guess. And, you know, lending support of, you know, what is it that we're going to do together to get through this, I think is a crucial thing. So that's how I make myself I think being a leader is to be available and to be able to help people when they need you.Michael Tingsager::
You have talked a lot about humanity before, as well as that also Compassionate Leadership. You talk about their like, you know, being there being available to take action. Yeah. To be compassionate when people need it.Thom Elliot::
I think it's, I think it's absolutely crucial. I think, what fills me with so much joy is that I think the team and the teams in Pizza Pilgrims do live like that there is a really compassionate vibe, like, our best teams certainly are the ones that are all out for each other. Like, you know, let's not, let's not beat around the bush, there have been some challenging times, you know, there's been days when we, when we, you know, when we're right at the beginning of the pandemic, when Boris was like, don't go and eat out. But there was no support. You know, I think a lot of a lot of companies at that point, pulled the ripcord and got a lot of their teams. And we didn't we were like, look, let's gonna, we're just gonna keep trading as much as we possibly can protect as many jobs as we can.
And obviously, then furlough came along, and you know, just completely saved the day. But we never had that moment where we're like, right, we're turning our back on all of this. And like, you know, I think I think being there, as the decision-maker, you know, ultimately, I and James are still ultimately the decision-maker and Pizza Pilgrims, there's no like board man, or, you know, a chairman or someone with a suit, who could tell us what to do. Like, ultimately, it's still our decision. And knowing that you're going to make the right decision in those in those moments is, is a huge part of being a leader, I think we feel so proud that we've built this thing that we still are in control of, like, you know, the decisions that we make our decisions. And yes, like, I know that we've made some wrong ones.
But hopefully, there's some solace in the fact that when we make a wrong decision, you know, it was us, you can get me on Workplace, you can tell me that it was the wrong decision. And we can try and fix it. Whereas if it's like, you don't know who made the decision is a wrong decision, then how do you go about fixing it? So? Yeah, I think it's been it's been really, really, really tough. This last year is undoubtedly the toughest in my short tenure in hospitality, obviously. And we couldn't have got there without, without you guys putting together and dealing with some incredibly challenging things from you know, both all the masks and sanitizing to the lack of security to the, you know, under understaffed under resource teams as we come back and all that stuff, but you know, just rest assured that we're putting everything into to moving the dial, and we will get there.Michael Tingsager::
Two questions left for you, Tom. One of them is, what advice would you give to other leaders out there? What is your top advice, because we are all able to bring something to the leadership table.Thom Elliot::
I mean, the number one thing that I see with, with what I would describe as bad leaders are like, you can tell that they're going into any conversation, having made a decision already. I just, it's my number one failing for people. It's like, if you're going to have the conversation, either make a decision and just be like completely, you know, War General decision-maker and be like, it's me, this is a decision, let's get on with it. Or actually, listen to the team and be ready to change your mind. But the worst version is that you've already made the decision, you then have an engagement with the team who have a different point of view. And then you're like, Yeah, but no, we're going to just carry on. I just think that that's the worst trait. So uh, try and listen to the team and like, try and like shape my thinking around it. On the flip side, I can definitely be like too far the other way and like, you know, one person in one site says this is a problem and I'm like, checkmate ready to change everything. So, you know, it's you've got to have a balance. But I think I think just listen like listening to your, certainly, for us, it's very easy because we've got incredible people that you know, in the exec team, and they've got a huge amount more experienced enough clarity. And we have, you know, Gavin has been working in hospitality for 25 years. So, you know, if you didn't listen to him, you'd be a fool.Michael Tingsager::
But it's interesting with the listening, but it was because we come through a period of, you know, chaos, and in principle, war on the front line if you use that terminology, you needed to make some decision, but now you actually need to step back for that likely start listening, understanding, but you're often getting your head in the trenches, and you just continue because it becomes behavioural. Yeah. And it's easy because you, you don't have to listen to others because you are the one with the answer.Thom Elliot::
But that's the perfect decision. The perfect balance to me is like when, when there was nothing coming, like at the beginning of the pandemic, no one was sitting around going, like, cool. I've been in this situation before, this is what we're gonna do. Everyone's like, well, what the hell do we do now? Yeah. And actually having the being able to step back and go, right, this is what we're going to do. Is that a great trick? So like, the dream scenario is like you can fill the void when there was no one speaking. But when there are people speaking, who have a genuine point of view, you can listen and adapt your decision making that that that's the perfect thing. Because, obviously, you know, the opposite end of the scale of the worst kind of leader is the person who doesn't know what they want to do. And it's just listening to the team and has no, you've got to have a bit of both, I think.Michael Tingsager::
What is the one question you wish to have asked you? And what would have been your answer?Thom Elliot::
The one question you wish I'd had wished you'd asked me. My daughter started asking me what my 17 favourite colours are, which is incredible when you start to unpack it quite a big question. What is one question? Probably? What's your favourite pizza? And I think the answer is it's still Salsiccia e Friarielli, which is sort of basically on the menu. Now for no reason other than like, it's my favourite pizza. It doesn't really sell but it's just such a great pizza. Proper Neapolitan classic. As such, I bet you are hoping for a much, much more exciting answer than that.Michael Tingsager::
Well, it's good and simple and very human.Thom Elliot::
Pizza is at the core of what we do, we mustn't forget that.Michael Tingsager::
Where can people find you and more about Pizza Pilgrims if they haven't really dived into what Pizza Pilgrims is and what it's all about?Thom Elliot::
Yeah, so we're, you know, on all those kinds of social media things, and Pizzapilgrims.co.uk that the internet is a good source of stuff. But yeah, why not just cut through all of that nonsense and go and have a pizza? We have pizzerias in London. We have one in Oxford, and we're opening one in Brighton soon. So yeah, come and try some pizza.Michael Tingsager::
Yeah. Well, look forward to that down here. Thank you so much for joining.Thom Elliot::
No worries. Thank you for having me. What a pleasure.