When it comes to ordering a pizza, people aren’t as spoilt for choice as they might once have been. The likes of Domino’s and Pizza Hut have managed to grab a big slice of the market, becoming consumers’ go-to brands in the process. However, those looking for something a little more authentic will be pleased to hear that Basilico, the wood-fired pizza chain, is embarking on a franchise drive across the UK.
Founded in the late 1990s, Basilico has steadily grown from one restaurant on the Fulham Road to a group of 11 outlets across London. It has managed to amass such a strong customer base in the capital by delivering traditional Italian fare to people’s doors. “Every element of our pizzas is Italian,” says Geoff Parsons, managing director of Basilico. “The ingredients are all imported from Italy and they’re sliced and packaged by us.” This extends to the sauce and even the flour used in the crust, which is blended at a flour mill in north-east Italy. “It’s a secret blend of flours,” he adds. “It’s a thin crust but it retains its texture and form very well for a ten or 15-minute delivery.”
But it’s not just the ingredients that help give Basilico’s pizzas their authenticity: the company is one of only a handful of pizza-delivery chains in the UK that cooks its pizzas in a traditional wood-fired oven. “It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum to a Pizza Hut or a Domino’s, where the pizzas are made on a metal tray and drop off the end of a conveyor belt,” says Parsons. “While it means Basilico might not be able to pump out as many pizzas per minute, it’s a price worth paying for delivering the real deal. “It’s not the cheapest way to run a pizza oven but it gives you a different sort of heat and a more authentic product,” says Parsons.
Basilico’s specially trained pizza chefs – or pizzaiolos – also provide a point of difference that helps set the brand apart from its closest competition. “There is a company up in Scotland that has two or three wood-fired outlets but their ovens have a rotating floor, which deskills it,” says Parsons. “Ours are totally traditional in the way that the oven is set up and worked by the pizzaiolos.”
Yet prior to Parsons joining the company in 2011, Basilico’s ovens were hidden from the public eye; something that changed when he took the reins. “We expose our pizza ovens now, which means there is some spectacle if you visit our outlets,” says Parsons. “We are fundamentally a delivery business but, in some areas, we are 25% collection or eat-in, so the oven is absolutely fundamental to the brand.”
Having proven the model works in London, Parsons believes the brand is now fit for franchising. “We have got to the stage where it’s practical to franchise,” he says. “We’ve got critical mass and the brand is strong enough to expand within London and move out into Greater London.”
And with enquiries coming in from as far afield as the East and West Midlands, it’s evident that franchising will be the most effective way for Basilico to increase its presence across the UK. “We strongly believe in working with local schools, providing prizes for tombolas and raffles and getting involved with local sports clubs,” says Parsons. “That’s much better done by somebody who lives in and knows the territory.”