Pizza Express no longer has to carry out menu development and equipment testing from operational kitchens within its restaurants after opening up a Global Innovation Centre in London.
The state-of-the-art facility, based in the heart of Fitzrovia just two minutes from its London HQ, provides a dedicated space for meetings, training, events and menu creation work.
Pizza Express runs 500 restaurants in the UK and the site will enable it to develop new dishes and offerings that can then be rolled out to stores.
Food and beverage director, Jane Treasure – whose team are now based out of the facility – said the sizable investment reflects its appetite for future growth.
“I think there was just a recognition that we needed a focused place to work together. Innovation and development is super important. We have training sessions in there, we have customer focus groups in there — me and my team like to think it is just for us but it is not! And there was also just a recognition that in order to really step up to another gear that kind of space is needed.”
The Innovation Centre contains a large kitchen area that is split into two distinct zones: one featuring a three-deck Sveba Dahlen oven and adjacent prep space that mirrors the sort of set-up installed within a typical PizzaExpress restaurant; and another comprising a more traditional kitchen set-up featuring induction hobs, salamander grill and griddle.
“I think it is really important that we have a kitchen that we can do traditional cooking styles on and try different things, and then we have the Pizza Express side so that we can look and model, set things up and stress test — we have even got a till system so we can literally run and monitor what happens if I am sitting there with a button going, ‘right, I am a customer, here’s another order and another and another’. We haven’t broken anything yet!
“And then we have got the bar as well because drinks are a really important part and actually we have probably got more innovation coming through with drinks equipment — there is a lot happening.”
Mrs Treasure said that Innovation Centre is already delivering huge benefits to the business, including allowing it to test new products and concepts under real-life conditions.
“It also allows us to have the space to look at glassware and tables and chairs and design. And we have got systems set up so that we can film — so if we wanted to we could do a live link to the restaurant managers or different countries and train them. It has been future-proofed as much as possible.
“No two days are the same though. We have had days this week and last week where we have had a supplier presentation next to a photo shoot, next to burn-offs being run out of the oven to send off for nutritional analysis. It is a really dynamic space.”