Topping the menu
Offering diners the unique opportunity to design, build and of course eat their own artisan pizza, Project Pie represents a tasty opportunity for its entrepreneurial founders and hungry customers alike
It was literally a case of ‘one bite and we’ve got you’,” says Director Susan Canavan on her first experience of Project Pie in San Diego that would lead Susan and her husband John Canavan to take the exciting step of introducing the concept of bespoke artisan pizza to the UK. Prior to arriving in the UK, the story of Project Pie begins in the US where the company’s founder James Markham set out to provide fantastic pizza without a prohibitive price tag. Soon after he pioneered the fast casual, custom pizza restaurant by opening MOD Pizza in Seattle and Pie-Ology in California to popular acclaim. Following this success James took the decision to move the project forward and the next generation in the company’s history, Project Pie was born.
The Project Pie concept offers diners the opportunity to build their own custom pizza from a broad range of quality, fresh ingredients at a set price. Customers may choose from the restaurant’s signature red sauce or olive oil white base, as many toppings as they like and American BBQ sauce, pesto and extra virgin olive oil after bakes. For a lighter meal, diners may also opt for a simple classic cheese pie or salads that can be served as a side, on their own or Project Pie’s unique crust. Gluten free is available as well as parmesan and garlic strips and dessert options such as the ‘black and white’ and Nutella and banana pizzas, meaning Project Pie can provide an option to suit almost any taste. These can all be washed down with a cool glass of the classic American beverage Boylan’s soda, which is made using real sugarcane and served with free refills.
All of the ingredients and toppings used by Project Pie are delivered fresh and the vegetables and other produce used are cut daily rather than arriving pre cut and frozen. This ensures great tasting pizza that is also ‘guilt free’ and healthy, which is something Susan attributes to the company’s access to trusted suppliers: “I have to say that the UK and Scotland have incredible produce and I think that it actually tastes better than what is available in America. We have a very unique country in that famers and suppliers are not allowed to put so many preservatives into the product and there is a very strict level of control. Of course the water available in Scotland is wonderful, so the dough tastes fantastic,” she elaborates. After living in California for 35 years Susan and John decided to introduce the Project Pie concept to the UK, basing their decision on the exceptional quality of their first experience of the restaurant’s pizza. “We actually went to Project Pie in Hillcrest, San Diego on the advice of a friend. The concept was so different to anything else and the pizza was absolutely the best that we had ever tasted in our lives. It was artisan pizza with a great crust that you could pick up with out all of the toppings falling off,” Susan reveals. “I mentioned to my husband that this was a concept that would really work in the UK. We then decided that we had to give it a try and this is how we got started. We soon negotiated a deal with Project Pie to obtain the master franchise in the UK and Ireland.”
Project Pie first opened its doors in Dundee, Scotland during February 2015 and has proven to be extremely popular. The decision to open the first Project Pie restaurant within the UK in Dundee was taken to test the appetite for the concept and to ease establishment of the venture under the guidance of former Hakkasan CEO, Niall Howard. “We opened in Dundee to allow us to establish proof of concept,” Susan explains. “As former CEO of Hakkasan Niall is famous for taking Chinese food to China by opening a venue in Shanghai. With Niall living in Edinburgh it was decided that opening in Dundee would make is easier for Niall to keep a close eye on the running of the business.”
While clients can expect the same level of service and delicious food at every Project Pie within the US and UK, each restaurant has a different design and local flavour that makes each dining experience unique and helps to integrate the business with the local community. “Project Pie is called project because it is ever evolving – we leave each unit free to have some of its own personality and interior decoration,” Susan details. “For example presently we are established in a grade two-listed building in Dundee, which gives it the feel of neighbourhood pizza house that has existed for many years and this gives it a wonderful atmosphere. We also have the UK’s largest pizza oven as the restaurant’s centrepiece.”
With the highly acclaimed and publicised success of Project Pie both in America and within Scotland, it is only matter of time before the franchise is established elsewhere in the UK to provide diners with a truly unique culinary experience. Concluding with some thoughts on the future of the business, Susan comments: “We are now looking aggressively to secure new sites, although we are a fledgling franchise within the UK we would like to expand very quickly. One thing that is so important to the company is the welcoming enthusiasm and energy of our staff as well as our Director of Operations, Chantal Nell, who has been in the pizza business for over 20 years. We are not a five-minute wonder and we are dedicated to getting into the market and establishing our brand as a special business.”