Thom & James Elliot of Pizza Pilgrims & Nordic menswear brand ‘Asket’ founders, August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky
Read on to get more acquainted with the next of our impressive entrepreneurial forerunners.
3: Thom Elliot & James Elliot – Co-Founders of Pizza Pilgrims (British entrepreneur)
Thom Elliot founded Pizza Pilgrims with his brother James in 2012. The pair now manage 9 sites in London and one restaurant in Oxford. At the time that the Pizza Pilgrims idea was conceived, Thom was working in advertising & his brother in Tv. In Thom’s own words, “We were having some pints one day and talking about how we might get out of our jobs and into food. The street food thing was just happening, and it was a way to do a food business without the money or the expertise.”
“We were on our fourth or fifth pint when we said: Right, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to do pizza because no one else has done it”.
How the concept was conceived
Thom Elliot founded Pizza Pilgrims with his brother James in 2012. The pair now manage 9 sites in London and one restaurant in Oxford. At the time that the Pizza Pilgrims idea was conceived, Thom was working in advertising & his brother in Tv. In Thom’s own words, “We were having some pints one day and talking about how we might get out of our jobs and into food. The street food thing was just happening, and it was a way to do a food business without the money or the expertise. We were on our fourth or fifth pint when we said: “Right, this is what we’re going to do, and we’re going to do pizza because no one else has done it”.
James had done a cookery course in Italy the year before for his 21st and had seen the little Piaggio Ape vans and fell in love. They thought about putting a pizza oven in one and, rather than spend £1,500 importing the van, they decided to go to Italy and spend £1,500 travelling back with it. Thom stated: “It sounds like a massive cliché, but we genuinely went to Naples, had our first Margherita, and we were like: “Wow, you can’t get this in England. This is unbelievable. This is what we need to be able to recreate”.
What it took to get the business up and running
The initial business was for them to do events – weddings, bar mitzvahs and festivals – a catering business. The pair then realised that they really did need a proper presence if they were going to get anywhere with their concept. So, upon their return from the Naples trip, they ripped up their initial business plan and said: “We need a market stall”. They called several councils, and all of whom said they had nothing. The two kept on pestering them regardless. James stated in an interview that: “It got to the point where we’d go down to the markets and call them and say, I’m standing in the market, at the space you told us was full, and there’s no one here”.
Thom’s incessant badgering eventually paid off for them, as finally it was easier for the councils to do something than deal with the constant pestering. The first people to give in were Westminster, and they said that if the brothers promised never to call again, they could have a pitch on Berwick Street Market. Finally, the result they were looking for! To fund their new venture, the pair had a start-up cost of £15,000 spread across two credit cards for their first pizza van. “It was not money they had in their back pockets,” said Thom.
Scaling up, an how they did it
Wanting to turn their pizza van concept into a bricks and mortar restaurant, they sent a plea email to their godfather, in an attempt to get his input and funding for their venture. About six months after their first plea email (that was turned down by him), the brothers had secured a book deal and a TV show of their trip to Italy [Pizza Italiana with Thom and James on the Food Network]. After this exposure and expansion of their brand, they went back to Rupert (godfather), & told him the kind of numbers they were doing and that they still thought there was something in the concept. Only then did he agree that there was a bricks and mortar project for Pizza Pilgrims.
The amazing journey of raising the investment needed
Raising the investment for their first permanent site was an amazing journey for them. There were 15 investors in total. The pair estimate that they brought three investors to the table and Rupert brought the other 12, including himself. All the investors approached were all ridiculously experienced, and included the likes of John Barnes, who built Harry Ramsden’s; Sean Williams, who was head of M&A at PWC Leisure; and Warren Johnson, who founded W Communications. They all put in a ‘small amount’ of money, and the brothers then had all these amazing people to call on along with the investment they needed. They raised a total of £250,000 and could then open their first restaurant in Dean Street!
The pair says It was entirely opportunistic how Pizza Pilgrims end up expanding to more than one restaurant. “We really, genuinely, sat there in Dean Street, even after six months, going, how do you do two restaurants?” And then Shaftesbury, the landlord of Carnaby Street, was redeveloping Kingly Court and emailed us out of the blue.” Shaftsbury told the pair their vision for Carnaby Street and how they had a restaurant site that they wanted to be a pizzeria, and that they wanted it to be them. The brothers went down to look at it and weren’t greatly impressed with the site, but the investors told them that they had no idea what an opportunity this location was and that they had to take it.
So, after getting nudged by their investors Pizza Pilgrims landed up in Kingly Court. They were lucky with this location, as the landlord didn’t take any rent insurance off them, and they gave them huge amounts of free rent. With little to no experience in the food industry, the pair were now running a small group. Thom likes to think that one of the main benefits they had was their naivety.
Key priorities for the brothers
The brother’s aim was to always look at how they treated the people working in the company. They realised that there can be a ‘hard-earned mentality’ when running restaurants, where managers are only worth as many hours as they work in the week. Some of the managers in the company would speak about pulling 90-hour weeks in former jobs. The duo takes great pride in how they looked at that culture – not pushing people to their limit until they fall over and then go, yes, that’s enough.
I think we also bring a street food mentality, where you wear a lot of hats. We design and build the restaurants ourselves and we don’t have flash kitchens. If you have a kitchen designer contracted to design your kitchen, you will have one hell of a kitchen. I designed our first restaurant on Microsoft Paint! I still do it now on Keynote on Apple.
What’s next for Pizza Pilgrims?
The brothers have opened in Canary Wharf. A stretch of West India Quay is being regenerated and we’re in a beautiful, Grade I-listed old docking building. They are quietly calling it the ‘Pizza Playground’ because it’s something opposite to that kind of formal dining you used to get in Canary Wharf. It’s got 174 covers, and they’ve put a bowling alley on the terrace and have got a tie-in with Nintendo, bringing a dedicated area with a sofa that they are calling ‘Your Perfect Night in, out’.
What does the future hold for you two and Pizza Pilgrims? Is there an exit strategy?
Thom stated in an interview with The Caterer magazine: “There’s a great podcast called ‘How I built this’, about people who have created great companies. The first one, which is about the founder of Spanx [US billionaire Sara Blakely], is the best one. When she’d just started the company, people would ask what her exit strategy was, and she was like, “What are you talking about? I just started this thing!” She says it dawned on her then that people started companies to sell them, and I guess neither of us really have that mindset.” The duo had also mentioned that West India Quay is all-encompassing so it’s pretty hard to look further forward than six months.
The brother’s advice to entrepreneurs
What they have been surprised about is how important the numbers are. All the fun stuff comes from knowing the numbers. When they started out, their investors were really pushing them with the need for a proper finance team, and the pair were like: “Surely if you just add it up, we’ll have a good idea”. But they then built a big finance team in their head office. They don’t outsource any of it, it’s all in-house – its unique to Pizza Pilgrims, & it’s been invaluable for whenever the brothers need to understand something.
The brothers also say: “People often sit around and plan their street food venture for years and don’t do it, so it becomes a seemingly impossible task to make the dream happen. Just do it – do a version of it. If you want to start a pizza van, buy a pizza oven, and make pizza for your friends and then it’s just a step process from there. Otherwise, it’s just a cliff face.
4: August Bard Bringéus and Jakob Dworsky, Founders of Asket (Scandinavian entrepreneurs)
August and Jakob launched their menswear business in 2015. Asket started off as a conventional fashion business with the duos mission being to merely transform the industry’s sizing practices. Little did they know that they would go on to revolutionise the industry’s practises for the next generation. These businessmen metamorphosed into fashion revolutionaries as their brand was built on the belief that transparency, longevity and responsibility need to be essential across the fashion industry.
Five years down the line and Asket has one of the most remarkable sustainability and traceability channels in the business and is flourishing thanks to their affordable pricing. “Above all, we want to show there is economy in slowing down, that you can run a successful business that doesn’t rely on exploiting natural and human resources,” explains Bard Bringéus.
What does Asket mean?
The name Asket translates to a disciplined individual or, as the brand explains it, “a person who does without extravagance and abundance.” August and Jakob attempt this mantra by refusing seasonal collections, working with accountable mills and manufacturers, tracing garments every step of the process (and offering the public a full view of the supply chain and costs) and then selling directly to customers. Each item is handmade from high-quality fabrics and has been crafted to endure the test of time.
How the brand started
Jakob and August met at university, studying Business at Stockholm School of Economics. They both went on to work for short periods at consultancy firms and FinTech start-ups, but both soon realised that they wanted to create something with a long-lasting impact. Neither of them had ever worked in the fashion industry before, but both felt that the industry was ready for a ‘shake-up’. In retrospect, neither of them having any prior experience seemed to work to their advantage. The duo feels that it gave them a healthy dose of naiveté and an outside perspective that allowed them to see industry rules and standard processes very differently to how they possibly could have if they had of been in the industry to start with.
The pair had grown tired of not being able to find the pieces that they really loved and could wear the continuously. The wanted timeless, well-fitting wardrobe essentials that transitioned trends and could be worn all year round. They saw Asket as the solution to the frustration they constantly felt when looking for clothing. They hated the fact that shops were filled with clothes with elaborate details, designs and colours that would be outdated come next season, ultimately – Fads. They hated that you had to overpay for “quality” or pay too little for garments of uncertain origin and low quality. They realised that the fashion industry was fuelled by fads and encouraged a mindset of senseless consumption.
The identification process for the design duo
The T-shirt was their starting point, as they define it as ‘the most universal menswear essential’. Jakob also had a personal annoyance with T-shirts made by fast fashion brands, and being 6ft tall and of a slim build, he would always have to wear either a medium or large size. He said this landed up being either a crop top or a night gown. The pair noted that the current fashion industry sizing system suits the fashion trade as it is designed to keep production costs down by squeezing as many people into as few sizes as possible. Instead, Asket decided to offer 15 sizes, along with adding three lengths (short, regular, and long) on top of the standard XS – XL sizing system. This sizing system allowed Asket to cater to a much larger range of body sizes and fit preferences. The duo thought it would be straightforward, but it took then over a year to perfect their proprietary sizing.
The basic idea for Asket was to reduce the need for extensive wardrobes and to create a permanent collection, one single garment at a time. The pair state, “With this notion, is endless perspective, and eternal relevance of the product. We call the pursuit of less—helping people choose fewer items and to feel emotional gratification over a material gratification.”
To create the level of transparency that they wanted for their brand meant that they needed to visit factories. They needed to learn about the whole fashion supply chain, which they initially had no experience within. The first time they set foot in a factory was in Portugal in March of 2015 and they saw just the amount of hard work that goes into cutting and sewing a T-shirt. That doesn’t even consider all the work behind creating the fabric, spinning yarns, dyeing, all that – the pair were absolutely flabbergasted by the negligence or ignorance with which ‘we’, as consumers, buy clothing. Their trip to Portugal ignited their pursuit for more transparency in the fashion supply chain.
Asket brand values
The pair states that ; “It’s immensely important to restore the appreciation for the clothing that we buy and to instill a sense of meaningfulness, so that an item—that T-shirt—means something more to you.” It was a gradual transition from showing prices transparently to showing a factory where one step is made, to showing as much as possible and introducing full traceability down to the farms. Then most recently, not just showing what it costs and where it comes from, but also the impact that each garment has had on people and the planet. Essentially, Asket aims to educate the consumer into appreciating garments more so that we make more considered choices.
Read on to hear about Swedish Fashion Brand, Axel Arigato & Carina Lepore, Winner of the 2019 “The Apprentice UK”.