Anand Radia brought the first Pizza Express to Dubai in 1999. He has just opened Jazz@ Pizza Express in JLT. He talks about his typical working day.
Anand Radia came to Dubai from the UK in 1997 to expand his IT recruitment company. Just as he was about to settle in, it was bought out by the US firm Accustaff. He returned home to oversee the transaction but returned to Dubai in 1999 looking for new opportunities. He acquired the Pizza Express franchise for the UAE and opened his first restaurant in 2000. This year, Mr Radia introduced a licensed Jazz@Pizza Express in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, a first for the UAE. This is where he recently spoke about his typical day.
I live in Al Manara next to the Mall of the Emirates with my wife and two kids — I’ve got two older kids in London. I don’t have an alarm clock: my three-year-old wakes up at 6.50am so he will run in and disturb me, which is good. They get ready and go off to school with my wife. In 1999, I was free to do something else; I was looking at opportunities and I love food. In those days, there were two things British people felt were missing in Dubai food-wise: the British curry and Pizza Express. I got the UAE franchise in 1999 and opened the first restaurant in March 2000. We have seven restaurants now.
By 9am I’m in the office next to Wafi. There is lots to catch up on: finance, marketing, brainstorming new ideas. We are eight people: in marketing, HR, accounts, a receptionist and me. In the past year and a half, Pizza Express has reinvented itself in the UK quite a lot with new designs and menu offerings. My first new-look restaurant opened in Fujairah last year. Then we opened this one. Then Ibn Battuta was refurbished in March/April of this year. The UAE is full of British expatriates so we already have loyal customers. That’s an advantage because people are bringing serious brands with a following so the competition is severe.
Usually we spend up to lunchtime at the office then I’ll go off to one of the restaurants. My favourite pizza is the chipotle picante. It wasn’t on the menu before. [I made it] with green chillies and onions on a margarita pizza. Pizza Express realised: “Mr Anand likes it so let’s put it on the menu.’ So they took the recipe to the UK and recreated it. As part of Mövenpick [in JLT], we have a licence. I thought if we are doing the licence we are a pretty large restaurant we might as well have music as well. The Pizza Express history is jazz-related from founder Peter Boizot, who loved live jazz — and the Jazz Club in Soho is renowned. Tuesday nights are our open mike jam session. It’s a fun night and it’s become very popular. You see people walk in at 8 o’clock and leave at midnight; nobody moves. My aim is to bring in ticketed events as well to bring in famous people but obviously we’ve got to justify the economics of doing all that.
We have a lot of meetings going on at the moment, which I try to organise here.
I go home and see the children — they are three and seven — and spend a bit of time with them.
The majority of nights my wife and I come back to Pizza Express — we spend the evening here; Tuesday and Friday nights for sure. It’s rewarding in that it’s nice to see customers enjoying food in your restaurant. If I’m alone I stand at the bar, watch and make sure everything is all right. I’m approachable; I am there to help; I will run behind the bar if I have to. It’s rewarding because I’ve chosen a product I love. There are some brands that I wouldn’t like to be involved in even if there was the most money to be made. I would rather do something I think is nice and Pizza Express is nice.
I usually go home at 1am. At the weekends — Thursday, Friday and Saturday — we are open until 3am serving food and drinks. We are looking to expand quite a lot in the UAE: from shopping malls to residential areas. We were the first Pizza Express in the world to do deliveries. We will have a minimum of two new restaurants per annum. The notion is there to go to Abu Dhabi. I see Pizza Express fitting in with the new Abu Dhabi — Yas, Saadiyat, Sowwah Square — but I still need to see a bit of population there before I say let’s do something. Our aim would be that we have another jazz place in Abu Dhabi.