That’s not the Pizza Express way

I saw the news that Pizza Express is in trouble and at risk of folding. People have used the occasion to deal in some clunky humour, display their class credentials, or just relive memories.

My memories are of work. I was part of the inaugural staff at Pizza Express in St Andrews, Scotland, where my wife took her Master’s the first year that we were married. I had myself just graduated with a degree in journalism from Canada’s best programme, and I had over a year of work experience to boot as a reporter and chase producer for the national broadcaster, so I was pretty sure I could get some good work while she studied. Turns out the local rag for that corner of Fife was published out of Dundee, so I took the bus across the Silvery Tay and met with an editor. Tail between my legs, I returned with the knowledge that D.C. Thompson was something of a family firm and they weren’t really hiring.

How, then, to support ourselves when the Canadian dollar was two-fifty to the pound? Well, Pizza Express was opening a new resto, and they were hiring. Not only that, though they had plenty of applicants who were also students and therefore up for part-time work, there was a need for more stable full-time staff to keep the keel even. I had some waiting experience, so they took me. Sent me, of all places, to Dundee to train while the shop was getting finished.

J&G Innes Stationers, Church Street, St Andrews

Just across the street from Church Square and my employers, Pizza Express, was the stationers (my wife’s employers), which seems once upon a time to have been a possible media hub. Too bad. Photo by SwaloPhoto, found on flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Dundee and St Andrews Pizza Expresses were a study in contrasts. The company had lobbied hard and long to get a location in the Home of Golf: the town council was generally quite shy about chain shops coming in, but they’d finally cracked, and the firm had a good location on Church Square. Perfect for mums and dads taking their little Beauregards and Penelopes off to uni (though maybe a touch wrong for the celebratory graduation meal three years later… but I never got the chance to find out). The floor staff’s uniform was the typical polo shirt but black, with the logo embroidered in gold.

Dundee, however, was a real maverick. The manager had to twist the company’s arm to get permission to put in a fryer: if people couldn’t have a burger and chips, Dundee would not come, he said. They relented, but it was an odd fit. The manager had also, somehow, negotiated for bespoke music to play through the speakers rather than the PE-issued playlists. I enjoyed working with the people there, coming home tired on the last 99 bus with a pizza under my arm to share with my slumbering studying bride. I heard the resto closed a few years after we’d left; I wasn’t surprised. Continue reading