Following what can only be described as a transformational 2020, Pizza Express is primed and ready for the next stage of its growth, according to MD Zoe Bowley.

Speaking at MCA’s Restaurant Conference, Bowley said the changes which included refinancing its debt, appointing new CEO David Campbell, and its CVA – which resulted in 74 restaurant closures and approximately 2,400 redundancies – had, perversely, put it in a much stronger place than it was a year ago.

“It was a very long year, and we have worked tirelessly to strengthen Pizza Express for the future,” she said. “We have pulled together in a way that we have never done before.” Bowley explained that while the “storms” of 2020 were tough, particularly the redundancies it had to make, the challenges it faced have enabled them to find new ways to deliver for their customers and their company.

The pandemic has changed so much of the previous status quo and the business has had to adapt to the new normal, but Bowley said that while difficult decisions had to be made, Pizza Express stuck to the firm commitment that it had to look after its people and the longer-term health of the business. “Sadly, that meant we had to say goodbye to some of our restaurants and some of our teams,” she added.

Commenting on the recapitalisation of the business, which was “always on the cards”, Bowley said the changes had created a really good platform for the future. “We have got a strong balance sheet, a leadership in place that can build on the heritage, on dine-in, delivery and retail,” she said. “We are fully energised to seize the opportunities and really position Pizza Express back where it belongs – as one of the leaders of the casual dining market.”

And those opportunities will include new restaurants, she said. But it’s not going to jump into openings in any location. Bowley said the business was undertaking research to understand customer needs which was likely to change the landscape of where it will invest in the future.

“We need to evaluate every market,” she said, explaining that Pizza Express had had a pipeline of sites in the kinds of places you would imagine but that it needs to ensure there is high demand for its brand in those locations.

“We are over-indexing in residential at the moment,” said added. “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.”

Watch the full interview with Zoe Bowley from the Restaurant Conference 2021, to hear more about the growth in delivery sales during the pandemic, what Pizza Express has learned about people, the relationship with its landlords and how the casual dining sector might operate in a post-Covid world.

To watch all the footage from the event please click here.

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