UK debut has pizza chain hungry for more

America’s fastest-growing restaurant chain is seeking sites up and down the UK after launching its first branch at a leisure park in Leeds yesterday, selling pizzas at a fixed price of £7.47.

MOD Pizza, which has 126 outlets across America, has secured a site in Brighton Marina and is understood to be in negotiations on further sites in locations including Birmingham, Newcastle and Beckenham in Kent.

In Britain the chain is a joint venture between Scott and Ally Svenson, the American couple who launched MOD Pizza eight years ago, and Sir Charles Dunstone, the Carphone Warehouse co-founder who brought the Five Guys burger chain here three years ago.

MOD, which stands for “made on demand”, serves 11-inch pizzas that have toppings chosen by the customer from a core range of 30 ingredients. Like Five Guys, there is no waiter service. Instead, customers go up to a “pizza builder” and choose their own toppings. They can also build their own salad for £6.23.

At the launch in Leeds yesterday Mr Svenson said that the 110-seat restaurant, which cost about £700,000 to open, was almost identical to a US store, although he added: “Over time we’ll be very open to evolving the concept and localising it.

“We’re going to try the concept in a range of different trading formats to begin with and use the first five to ten sites to learn. In addition to leisure parks, we’ll try high street sites and a whole variety of sites to experiment and learn. By the end of this year, we’ll probably have three to five in the UK but we expect our rate of growth to accelerate next year.” Mr Svenson said that, as in the United States, culture and social values would play a key role. Employees in Leeds would be paid above the living wage, starting at £8.20 an hour, rising to £9.20, while the company would support not-for-profit organisations with a focus on vulnerable young people and families in need. All takings on its first day went to Breeze, a local not-for-profit group.

MOD Pizza was ranked America’s fastest-growing restaurant chain last year by Technomic, the consultancy, and expects to have 190 outlets by the end of this year. It reported turnover of just over $60 million last year but expects to double that figure this year.

Mr Svenson, who founded the Seattle Coffee Company with his wife in 1995, selling out to Starbucks in 1998 for £50 million, confirmed that an initial public offering of the US business was on the menu. “We’re going through an exploratory process around an IPO, for which we’re doing some internal planning and preparation, although it’s still at least two years off,” he said.