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May 15, 2017 | by  | in Food | [ssba]

Pizza Express

12/148 Willis Street


Picking up what was left of an Italian-owned pizza bar that served pizza ordained with organic mozzarella from bulls residing on the hills of Tuscany, the folks from Pizza Express knew they could not offer the same product if they wanted their entrepreneurial pizza dreams to succeed. This meant channelling less Tuscan bulls and more American pizza chain bravado. Something that worked to their advantage, given the close proximity of many student residences and unaffordable food options.

Drawing on their collective experience in the pizza trade, the Pizza Express folks decided that it was perhaps time to seize the means of production for themselves and use their know-how, accumulated over the years, to produce their own product. Manager Bobby, who runs the shop and curated the menu, says that the satisfaction that has come from being unencumbered by the tentacles of large hierarchical frameworks means that he can work without pressure and, in his words, be granted “full freedom.” This is particularly relevant now, in light of the recent battle between Unite Union and Restaurant Brands — a large company that runs numerous fast-food chains (including Pizza Hut) — over the past few weeks about its reluctance to grant a marginal increase ($0.10) to workers’ wages for the year.

Pizza Express stands tall among its more monstrous rivals, reminding us that this is not just a paltry comparative exercise in convenience and gluttony, but instead a David and Goliath battle. This is most evident by Pizza Express’s endeavour to match its larger competitors on price, with large basic pizzas available from $7, despite the lack of supply chain networks to draw on. In fact, as Bobby suggests, this inadvertently ensures that all their ingredients are as fresh as possible, an ethos that the shop prides itself on.

This assertion was demonstrated as I tucked into one of their famous specials, the Veggie Korma Pizza. I was told that this was the only such offering in the whole of New Zealand and that the korma sauce is homemade from a mild blend of cashew nuts and coconut cream. This pizza was a novelty, and pleasantly surprised me. The vegetables retained their bite and original flavour as they had promised. Not done yet, Pizza Express continue to draw on the spectrum of Indian flavours from their cultural cannon, masterfully offering Paneer (cottage cheese) on their pizzas, and even an absurd Butter Chicken pizza, which I remain unsure about. The menu is broad and is able to accommodate most, with the dough recipe being that of a “crispy base.” At times I have gone with the option of creating my own pizza, with the Paneer and Pineapple Pizza being in a league of its own.

Nevertheless, explaining the sharp learning curve during the opening phase of the shop, Bobby says they had to keep their ears to the ground, responding to customer feedback and needs. One effect of this has been the introduction of significant vegan cheese and gluten-free options. The diverse ethnic and gender makeup of the shop is progressive, refreshing, and more than can be said for pizza chains such as Tommy Millions.

The humility and forthright nature of the crew at Pizza Express is not only endearing but stands as an antithesis to other pizza places in Wellington, which are either symbols of repression, or signs that pizza must only be for the solipsism of a gilded life.


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