Gianluca D'Angelo (pictured right), the co-founder of Zia Lucia, the pizza brand known for its four distinct dough offerings, speaks to Emma Lake about celebrating the business's fifth birthday this year with the opening of its sixth neighbourhood site.
Where did the idea for Zia Lucia come from?
The idea was to do something a bit different from everyone else in the pizza market. After travelling in Italy we decided to build a brand around an innovation of bases, as opposed to just in the toppings. Our unique selling point is having four different types of dough on the menu: a traditional, a wholemeal, a vegetable charcoal – which has been a huge success – and a gluten-free dough.
What makes your bases so special?
In Italy there had been a small trend of experimenting with different types of dough – it didn't really take off, but we thought that London is the most receptive city to innovation and we should try it here.
We went to speak to different mills and different suppliers, and we travelled a bit in Italy and found the best flours for us, and then made our own recipe. We spent a lot of time with our pizza chef to try and master different combinations to get the product we wanted.
The beauty is that we have, say, 15 pizzas on the menu, but that is actually 60 different pizzas, because the traditional dough is very different from the wholemeal, which has hearty flavours and a bit crunchier. The charcoal is very different because it's black, it's fun – people are not used to it. And our gluten-free base has been named the best in London about three times.
Your sixth London site will open later this year in Balham – how have you chosen where and when to expand?
We opened our first site in Holloway Road in Islington, rather than Upper Street. We did this because we wanted to offer low prices and high quality – we could only do this if we didn't pay crazy rents. We had a lot of success and after 18 months we opened in Blythe Road in Hammersmith. That was also very successful. Then we thought, "right, if we can be successful in Blythe Road, we can be successful anywhere" – because, honestly, no one goes to Blythe Road to eat.
We wanted to offer low prices and high quality – we could only do this if we didn't pay crazy rents
We are very close to signing two more sites this year. That would be fantastic because it would mean we could continue to grow slowly but surely in a very difficult time.
We also launched a pasta brand two years ago, called Berto, with the same philosophy, real-estate strategy and price point, and with the same USP of four different types of pasta dough.
How many sites do you envisage the group growing to?
We're thinking about at what level can we keep the quality we want. The biggest mistake people make is they open one, have a bit of success, and then say OK, let's go boom, boom, boom. We need to structure ourselves so that with each new site we can guarantee we can replicate the quality. We're going very slowly but surely.
How have you celebrated your fifth birthday?
We launched our own beer, called Birra Cabriolè, in association with Laine Brewery in Brighton, which we sell in the restaurants and deliver UK-wide. On our birthday we offered two free beers per customer and gave a discount online. We also had a party with our staff and we went to Brighton for the day – we managed to celebrate, despite the restrictions in place.
Photography: Haydon Perrior
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