BigHospitality caught up with Pizza Pilgrims co-founder James Elliot, to get his take on the current pizza scene and find out his stance on the long-running pineapple-on-pizza debate.
So is pineapple on pizza okay or not?
There is a traditional approach to pineapple on pizza, which is that its sacrilege and you shouldn’t do it. The problem is that my brother (Thom, Pizza pilgrims co-founder) is part of that camp, whereas pineapple on pizza is one of my guilty pleasures. I had a ‘pineapples anonymous’ moment recently, where I just came out to him and just said “Hi, my name’s James and I like pineapple on pizza”. We decided that because it’s national pizza day, we’d do a special pizza with a decent chef that was basically a reinvention of the Hawaiian.
What’s on the pizza?
It’s called Hawaii Not. Our friend Neil Rankin (of Temper fame) came down and spent the afternoon in the kitchen, and we came up with a white pizza base topped with honey roast pineapple, buffalo mozzarella, nduja and fresh chilli. We found that the real issue is the tomato and pineapple. So we took the former away, and were left with a sweet and savoury contrast, known as ‘agro e dolce’ in Italian.
How will you quantify whether it’s good or not?
We are serving it at the Hawker House pizza festival, and we’re also running it as a special for the whole of February. There will be ballot boxes in all our restaurants, and everyone who tries the pizza gets a vote. It’s a bit of a pineapple on pizza Brexit situation: In or Out. We’ll find out at the end of February, put the issue to bed and never talk about it again.
We’ll see how long that lasts!
Actually, what we said was if the votes came out as yes, we’ll make Hawaii Not a staple special every year in February. If it’s a failure then we’ll ceremoniously burn a pineapple in our oven. And never talk about it again, maybe.
Do you ever celebrate National Pizza Day in your restaurants?
This is the third National Pizza Day, and previously all we’ve really done is offer half price pizza on the day. We’ve never done the festival before and we haven’t done anything as big as this. We get really busy across all our sites on National Pizza Day.
How’s your new site going in Oxford?
The site is our biggest yet and it’s been going really well. It’s a much bigger unit than we are used to, and it’s the first time we’ve been in a more formal setting, like the Westgate development. We aren’t trying to change too much, we’re doing exactly what we do in all our pizza restaurants. Considering it’s our first site outside of London, we’ve had a good reception and people seem to be loving it.
Would you consider opening more regional restaurants?
Tom and I are actually from Oxford, so we knew the city really well which is partly why we chose to open there, as well as the fact that it’s easily accessible from London. We’re all there every week. We’re still a small company and we haven’t got the resources to open sites too far from home, because we have to be at the sites a lot of the time. We’ve got a London Bridge site lined up for May, and we have a few more potential areas we are looking at in London.
There is a lot of activity in the pizza market at the moment. Do you worry about competition?
There are a lot of different types of pizza going on at the moment, and some of them are different to us in terms of style of pizza and service. They are so different from each other that we don’t see them as competition. I think every style of pizza has its place. The pizza world has always been a friendly space, and we’re good friends with a lot of the other operators. As a result, I think the pizza festival at Hawker House will be a good laugh.