PizzaExpress MD: “perversely we are in a much stronger place than we were a year ago”

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Restaurant group Pizza Express says it is ready for the next stage of growth

Related tags PizzaExpress Casual dining Restaurant

After a tough 2020 that saw it close 74 restaurants and make large redundancies, PizzaExpress says it is ready for the next stage of its growth.

Speaking at MCA’s Restaurant Conference, PizzaExpress managing director Zoe Bowley said that moves the company made last year, including undertaking a CVA and refinancing its debt, had safeguarded the future of the casual dining chain and strengthened its position.

“It was a very long year,​ and we have worked tirelessly to strengthen PizzaExpress for the future,” said Bowley. “Perversely we are in a much stronger place than we were a year ago.”

Bowley described having to make around 2,400 redundancies as a result of the CVA as “regrettable” but says the challenges it has faced have enabled the company to find new ways to deliver for their customers.

“When it came to the CVA we looked at infinite detail on every single restaurant’s potential for the future.

“We did the analysis and it said should it be included in a CVA? If we retain it do we need to reduce the team and do we find news ways of balancing dine in with dine out delivery and define the new operating model?

“They were really difficult decisions, but we stuck to firm to the commitment that we had to look after the longer-term health of our staff and the business.”

Moving forwards

Bowley said the company started 2020 with a detailed plan to upgrade its restaurants and customer offer and that the results of the refurbishment trails had been encouraging. “We were really confident they would drive rapid growth; the excitement and energy was massive.”

She also said the appointment of former Wagamama chief executive David Campbell​ as PizzaExpress CEO would help the business move forward. “David has huge experience in hospitality other sectors and that diversity will helps us bring new ideas.”

Commenting on the recapitalisation of the business, Bowley said the changes had created a really good platform for the future. In November 2020 total debt was reduced by £400m and the company received a fresh injection of capital that Bowley said had given it the strength “to grown and evolve the brand across all channels”.

“We have got a strong balance sheet, a leadership in place that can build on the heritage, on dine-in, delivery and retail.

“We are fully energised to seize the opportunities and be able to really position PizzaExpress back where it belongs as one of the leaders of the casual dining market.”

PizzaExpress no operates around 350 restaurants in the UK and Ireland with around half of the estate open for delivery and rest closed. She said the lockdowns had give the company time to accelerate its thinking on delivery.

Looking to the future, Bowley said the pandemic has changed the landscape of where the company will invest. “We had a pipeline of sites but obviously opportunities have changed and we now have to ensure we are present in locations where there is high demand for our brand. We are over-indexing in residential at the moment.

“We will be reviewing where markets are that we can bring back the Pizza Express brand, in better locations that maybe some of the markets that we exited. We are going to invest and we will absolutely be building.”

Watch the full interview with Zoe Bowley from the Restaurant Conference 2021 here​.

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