One of the most remarkable and impactful entrepreneurs and philanthropists of recent times, Peter threw open the doors of the first PizzaExpress on Wardour Street, Soho, in 1965. With it, he revolutionised the UK restaurant scene forever bringing casual dining to the high street.
Peter travelled to Europe in the 1960s, living and working in France, Germany and Switzerland before settling in Rome; reporting for the Associated Press and selling postcards from a barrow in St Peter’s Square.
Having fallen for the continental dining culture, Peter returned to London, distraught to find that there was nowhere to buy a proper Italian pizza. Ever an opportunist, he decided to make, sell and eat it himself.
Peter’s ambition for authenticity, combined with an uncommon determination proved to be a winning combination. Shipping an authentic pizza oven over from Naples and sourcing real mozzarella from the only producer in London, it was this same drive that made Peter the first man to import Peroni to the UK.
The restaurant first welcomed the public on 27 March 1965 to Wardour Street. Creating the concept of casual dining, square slices of pizza were sold in greaseproof paper through the front window. PizzaExpress has become part of millions of people’s lives, but the ethos of a simple menu with warm service remains very much the same.
An avid art collector throughout his life, Peter was keen to create a stylish aesthetic for his restaurant, teaming up with Italian designer, Enzo Apicella, to do so. Together, they introduced a wine menu, dining tables, the signature PizzaExpress open kitchen and simple, attractive furnishings. Celebrities and journalists flocked to the restaurant and a brand was born.
The second restaurant opened on Coptic Street, next to the British Museum, in 1967. Formerly a dairy, Peter gave Enzo a brief to replicate the aura of the first PizzaExpress but with a completely unique design and décor, in keeping with the building’s character and charm.
This became a feature of PizzaExpress’ roll-out, with Peter as determined to avoid becoming homogenous as he was to grow the business. Rather than a chain, he often compared his restaurants to a necklace, with each link, a highly polished gem. Enzo went on to design over 85 PizzaExpress restaurants.