Pizza Pilgrims’ cover like-for-likes are up on 2019 levels, with both eat-in and delivery sales holding up strongly, co-founder Thom Elliot tells MCA.

The pizzeria group reported record revenue in its 2023 financial year as it makes its way to becoming a nationwide brand, with Scotland and Wales debuts planned for this year.

Revenue growth amounted to 37% to a record £28.7m last year

“It’s very encouraging for our industry that people are still spending on experiences,” Elliot says. “People haven’t abandoned eating out.”

The Imbiba-backed, Neapolitan-inspired concept continues to build its presence in London, with openings set for King’s Cross and Euston this year, with an eye on residential areas as well.

“We don’t not do residential – one of our recent openings was Queen’s Park,” Elliot adds. “But high footfall locations are where we’ve got the most experience. Strong urban locations are our heartland.”

The approach to growth is organic and has always been so, rather than setting number-based targets, according to Elliot. While expansion is important, Pizza Pilgrims is keen to keep debt low.

“We’ve always wanted to grow, but we’ve kept debt below industry levels.

“What’s driving us is not only new openings, but also our B Corp certification and our desire to do better.”

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As the brand makes its Scottish and Welsh debuts, it will bring something “fun and unique” to each openings, such as installations or collaborations with local distilleries and breweries.

However, following success in the first round of openings outside London – in Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton, and Cambridge – the brand is confident in keeping adaptations to a minimum.

“We wanted to create a brand with a sense of identity, and a product as authentic as we can do, but with a twist.

“We have confident in our product and teams, and also respect for the Italian heritage.”

Pizza Pilgrims has nevertheless been on the forefront of innovation, with its pepperoni and hot honey-topped pizza retaining bestseller status.

“Pizza has been a very competitive industry for a long time,” Elliot says. “We want to do something timeless but keep it interesting and bring new stuff to the market.

“We were one of the first to bring hot honey pizza to the UK – it was on our menu five years ago, now it’s everywhere. Our job is to be the next thing, but be it now.”

Pizza Pilgrims further reported pre-tax profit and EBITDA both more than doubling on 2022 levels.

Despite cost pressures, the brand has grown and therefore been able to rework its supply chain to use the same suppliers but work with them directly.

This has helped mitigate food costs while maintaining or even growing margins in some areas.

The business secured a £3.5m investment from specialist investor Imbiba in 2021, with the Elliot brothers continuing as majority owners.

“There will undoubtedly be a change in the future, but there are no immediate plans.

“James and I feel incredibly lucky and fortunate to be in a position where we’re still in control of the company.

“No one can come along and say they want to slash the quality of the product.”