The phone call began innocuously enough. On the other end of the line was the Italian Embassy. After pleasantries were exchanged, it soon became apparent that things were less than bene. The reason they had contacted Kotipizza? Well, pizza of course.
Back in 2005, then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had caused a minor diplomatic incident by mentioning that he had to “endure the Finnish diet” during a state visit.
Kotipizza, it seemed, had had the last laugh. A few years later, the Finnish chain won the America’s Plate International pizza contest in New York City. The name of its prize pie? Pizza Berlusconi, of course.
Adding insult to injury, the distinctly Finnish combination of smoked reindeer atop a rye crust promptly became a staple of Kotipizza’s menu.
“The Italian embassy called us to take it down: ‘You cannot advertise using our prime minister’s name,’” recalls CEO Tommi Tervanen, with a hearty chuckle. “We replied that he better come here himself and tell us, then we will.”
Needless to say, Berlusconi never did make it back to Finland. However, if he had he would have borne witness to a pizza chain that would become nothing short of a local phenomenon.
Currently 266 restaurants strong, the Kotipizza chain’s sales have skyrocketed and it is now one of the largest restaurant chains in Finland. At the same time, the Kotipizza Group’s stock price has nearly tripled.
From the base up
Amidst all this upward trajectory, the sense of mischief and adventure remains intact at the Kotipizza Group. Rather than sit back and enjoy the vantage point from atop a mountain of cash, the team have another plan: cracking the international market with a new franchise.
How are they going to do this? The answer is No Pizza.
Housed in a stark space with a distinct visual identity, each No Pizza restaurant offers a signature menu. Customers also have the opportunity to choose their own customised combinations of toppings.
“The more people eat these pizzas, the more they will recognise the locally sourced, organic ingredients,” Tervanen explains. “This brand is very much directed to millennials.”
Any good business idea must be built on a solid foundation.
“If you start to build a pizza you start from the bottom, meaning the dough,” Tervanen says. “We wanted a very different angle, so we teamed up with Fazer to create a sourdough crust.”
Tapping into the global enthusiasm for artisan breads, No Pizza says no to dull, tasteless and undercooked bases.
And that’s not it for the negativity.
“We say no to a lot of bad things: no to additives, no to bad working conditions, no to bad animal welfare, no to plastic and no to arseholes.”
Now the Nordics await, with the company looking to commence operations in Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen. Once the first step is taken abroad, No Pizza will have done what few other Finnish eateries have successfully attempted: take their idea abroad.
“The Arctic way of thinking has a certain resonance,” Tervanen says. “When you come from Finland the brand should be exciting. When you hear ‘No Pizza’, you immediately become interested.”
The CEO also hopes that the venture’s success will mean that other Finns will make a push towards international recognition.
“Finland has great potential on the chef side, concept side and with raw materials. This should be our new Nokia: new agriculture, new design, new food development.”
Tervanen is now on a roll, with quotable quotes flowing thick and fast. “Great retailing is great detailing” is one. “We have three values: love what you do, have the will to experiment and the will to succeed” follows, hot on its heels.
This all stems from a passion to do something outside the box; to provide a range of flavours and experiences that can be enjoyed everywhere.
When Tervanen mentions that the final tweaks to the concept are being made, one’s mind drifts back south to Italy. So, will a certain former politician be present in the decision-making process?
“Ah, no, Berlusconi will not be involved.” [laughs]