Founders James and Thom Elliot - who currently operate 10 sites in London and a further site in Oxford - say the project while allow them to train new starters in a less high pressure environment and take a more structured approach to developing existing staff.
“It's very difficult to learn in a restaurant. If you don't know what you're doing they can be intimidating places,” says James. “It’s tricky because you do need to throw people in at the deep end. But all too often that first week is not the smoothest ride.”
Everyone that joins Pizza Pilgrims will go through a one week induction at the academy that will include basic training - including first aid, health and safety and restaurant terminology - and some training in all the roles within Pizza Pilgrims including cheffing, waiting and bartending.
“Crucially, it will allow prospective staff to get a sense of what role is best suited to them," says Thom. "We tend to recruit junior roles on attitude rather than experience so we’re often recruiting people who have never worked in a restaurant before.”
The project - which is being led by Pizza Pilgrims head of people Hayley Cummings, most recently at Wahaca - will also run more specialist courses pitched at people already working in the business.
“I’ll probably run the one on social media as that’s one of the areas I look after,” says James. "We might get our operation director Gavin Smith to run one on leadership, or our head barista to run one on coffee. We will also be looking at getting interesting people from outside the business in to do talks. We want these talks to be for everyone in the business, from our chairman to a waiter.”
It’s hoped the 20 or so cover restaurant and delivery offer will eventually make the project cost neutral.
While they are looking to open a few more restaurants over the next 12 months, the brothers say the project is more about increasing the quality of the training the company can offer than training large amounts of staff at once.
The brothers are on the hunt for a railway arch and hope to open early next year. “Ideally we want about 2,000 sq ft in a place that's not quite busy enough for a full size Pizza Pilgrims restaurant but with a big catchment for delivery,” says James. “We’re looking at locations including Fulham, Clapham, Herne Hill and Camden.”
“It needs to be as far away from a dark kitchen as humanly possible,” says Thom. “It can't be on an industrial estate - that fills me with horror. It needs to be a place where young people want to be.”