How I got here: Thom Elliot

By Joe Lutrario contact

- Last updated on GMT

Thom Elliot Pizza Pilgrims

Related tags: Pizza, Casual dining, Italian food

Thom Elliot founded Pizza Pilgrims with brother James in 2012. The pair now operate nine locations in London and a restaurant in Oxford.

Why restaurants?
It was in our blood. Our grandparent ran wine bars up north, and both our parents ran pubs (which we grew up in). Our mum is I think equally proud and disappointed that we ended up in hospitality.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
I think the bit that really surprises you is how no stop hospitality is. There are literally two days a year when the pizzerias are closed and nothing can go wrong. I guess that is part of the reason why the sector feels so energised all the time. Of course it is obvious when you think about it, but is does catch you out.

What do you do in your spare time?
What spare time….? Essentially spend time with the family – with my wife Jem, and kids. We run a separate limoncello business, Pococello, on the side – and I have just started a Bruce Springsteen club night too – so sadly time is on the short side.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
Blacklock. It is simple, fun, good value, great music. It never disappoints.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
Well I used to work in advertising but someone would have figured out I was useless at that by now. I guess ideally I would be a bass player in a band…

What motivates you?
Our number one motivation is seeing people growing with Pizza Pilgrims and becoming great managers, head chefs and ops people. It is just so fantastic to see people growing with us and managing situations and teams that I could never have taken on at their age. It is just so positive to see people learning on the job.

Where was your last holiday?
Toulouse. Just sat by a pool with cheese, bread and rose. Heaven.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
We had the honour of meeting John Timpson when we had just opened our first pizzeria and he has always been a massive inspiration. Whilst obviously not a restaurateur, his “upside down management” approach and attitude to his teams and employees is really exemplary. They still rely on word on mouth and customer experience to this day. The company does not employ one marketing focused employee. Timpson’s is a genuinely inspiring company.

What keeps you up at night?
Too many things. But a genuinely bad Tripadvisor review is a sleep ruiner.

Worst business decision?
Building a huge pizza oven on a roof in Shoreditch in our first summer in business. We literally carried every brick and bag of cement up seven flights of stairs (there was no lift) and then built the oven in three days. The plan was to run a supper club up there for the whole summer. After the first weekend we discovered the agreement we signed with the tenant of the building was worthless and the landlord shut us down. On the plus side I lost half a stone.

Best business decision?
Opening our second site in Kingly Court. Shaftesbury took a punt on us, but we were really unsure we wanted more than one. It has been an amazing pizzeria and was a huge step for us towards taking Pizza Pilgrims upwards.

What are you reading at the moment?
Salt Fat Acid Heat. An awesome cookbook that gets all geeky about food and cooking. It is great at describing why certain ingredients and flavours works, rather than just that they do. It is set out like a text book rather than a recipe book. I have learned so much.  

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
It’s about the people more than anything. Don’t forget that.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
People who forget that it is about the people.

CV to date
1983 Born in Manchester
Studied experimental psychology at Oxford University
Worked in advertising
2012 Founded Pizza Pilgrims with brother James

Related topics: People, Profiles, Casual Dining

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