Beachroad Magazine meet up with PizzaExpress GM Jon Green at their newly refurbished restaurant at Al Safa Centre. Jon gives us an insight into what it takes to manage the legendary brand and his take on Dubai as a city.
Hi Jon, so firstly how did you get to be involved in this industry? //
I had no intention of having a career in hospitality! Like many people who work in the industry, I found something incredibly addictive about working in a fast-paced and ever changing environment where you meet different people in such varied situations. In an extremely competitive market I find a satisfying challenge in making my kitchen, restaurant, region, company and above all, my team, the best in the business.
Since taking the reins of my first restaurant in 2004, I've constantly strived to ensure that the potential has been realised in every business I've managed and every person I've led. Being a leader is challenging, satisfying, fun, stressful and countless other superlatives, but I can honestly say that I've loved every minute of it.
What is your role in the region? //
Today I'm responsible for managing an entire business based in the UAE. There is a huge amount of satisfaction to be taken from developing and executing plans to deliver commercial success whilst ensuring that a brand's ethos and values remain at the core of what we do.
Where do you like to eat, socialise and shop in our community? //
As well as frequenting our restaurant in Al Safa, I also love City Walk its a great development and, especially in the cooler months it will be a great destination for dining.
What are the challenges of moving to Dubai? //
Initially the climate, I moved over in June so stepping foot off the plane into 45 degree heat and high humidity was a shock. Other than that Dubai is an incredibly easy city to adapt to.
Outside of work what are your hobbies and passtimes? //
Football and F1 are two of my favourite sports. I love skiing so have enjoying carving my way down the slopes in Ski Dubai. I’m also looking forward to competing in the RAK Half Marathon in February as I enjoy running.
Why should someone relocate to Dubai, what are the perks of living here? //
There are so many reasons, it’s a great quality of life. The sunshine and beaches have to be one of the best reasons along with meeting some awesome people. On top of that there are some incredible career opportunities, working in such a fast moving environment is incredibly rewarding.
JON ANSWERS THE BEACHROAD MAGAZINE Q&A : //
NAME? // Jon Green.
YOUR FIRST JOB? // I was actually a part time waiter in a restaurant while I was at college.
YOUR CURRENT OCCUPATION // I’m the General Manager of PizzaExpress UAE.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN DUBAI? // 13 months, still new but not quite ‘fresh off the plane’ anymore.
WHERE WERE YOU BASED PREVIOUSLY? // I’d been in London for about a year, before that I was in Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester in the UK.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START WORKING WITH PIZZAEXPRESS? // I wanted to work with a company that valued it’s people and offered genuine growth opportunities. I began in 2009 as a Restaurant Manager, then became an Area Manager, an Operations Manager and now I run the company here in the UAE. PizzaExpress have a great track record in developing it’s people so that was the biggest attraction for me.
YOUR FAVOURITE PIZZA? // I love our Pollo Forza pizza – it was my favourite in the UK so I just had to bring it to the UAE, my team thought it was purely for selfish reasons but thankfully it’s now our best seller.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON THE EVER CHANGING CITY THAT IS DUBAI? // I am in awe of this city, it’s incredible to see how rapidly things develop here – a real testament to what can be achieved when people have determination and ambition. I can’t help but be amazed at the growth of Dubai. There has been some serious vision and ambition involved that you just have to admire.
WHAT ARE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES IN YOUR JOB? // The diverse nature of the role requires some serious mental agility. A day can range from walking around a building site trying to visualize a PizzaExpress there, to developing new dishes, reviewing marketing campaigns and negotiating contracts – no two days are the same.
WHAT GIVES YOU THE GREATEST SATISFACTION IN YOUR JOB ? // My team. I have some incredible people working alongside me and the level of passion and commitment in our restaurant teams is something special. I also have some great people working in our Head Office who constantly embrace the challenge of being a truly innovative brand. I love seeing my team’s ideas go from a few notes into something that really drives PizzaExpress forward.
WHATS NEXT FOR PIZZAEXPRESS IN DUBAI? // Although our next 2 openings are in Abu Dhabi and Ras al Khaimah we have a further 2 new restaurants coming to Dubai in 2017. Before that we are launching our next new menu in September, we have some amazing new dishes which I’m hoping our guests will love and we also have our new website about to go live which will help us to better engage with our fans.
WE LOVE THE SAFA PIZZAEXPRESS WHICH HAS RECENTLY HAD A REFURB, WHEN WAS THAT PARTICULAR RESTAURANT ESTABLISHED AND CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT IT? // Thank you, I love this restaurant too and one of the first things I wanted to do when I arrived here was to refurbish it. This restaurant opened back in 2000 and is our oldest site – not quite as old as the UK’s first restaurant which opened back in 1965 but it still has some great history to it.
THE JLT JAZZ BRUNCH HAS BECOME QUITE LEGENDARY, WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION BEHIND THE IDEA? // Our Jazz@PizzaExpress restaurant is inspired by our original music venue in Soho, London. Music has always been a key part of the PizzaExpress DNA and the Soho venue has played host to the likes of Norah Jones and the late Amy Winehouse and was the place where Jamie Cullum was discovered. The brunch embodies all that is great about Jazz@PizzaExpress – great music, a relaxed atmosphere and most importantly of all, great fun!
PERISH THE THOUGHT, BUT IF YOU HAD TO WORK FOR ANOTHER PIZZA BRAND WHAT WOULD BE YOUR CHOICE?// It would have to be a restaurant in Naples called Antica Pizzeria Port'Alba – it is supposedly the oldest pizza restaurant in the world and the only place that could compete with PizzaExpress for heritage!
ITALIAN FOOD ASIDE WHAT ARE YOUR OTHER CHOICES? // I love tapas so it would have to be at a Spanish restaurant.
IF YOU OPENED YOUR OWN RESTAURANT WHAT WOULD YOU CALL IT? // I would probably be foolish not to stick to the Italian theme given everything I’ve learned so maybe something like Pizza Verde.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE HOLIDAY FOODIE DESTINATION? // Italy and Spain aside I recently went to Indonesia and got the chance to take part in a cooking class – there are some incredible flavours in Indonesian food but France has to take top spot for me – cooking is an art form there.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WANTING TO GET INTO THE INDUSTRY? // Hospitality is such an easily accessible industry – most of the best F&B professionals I’ve worked with started out as waiters or kitchen porters. The great thing about this industry is that career progression can be rapid. The most important thing is to work for the right employer though, ensure you find a company that will invest in you – don’t be afraid to interview your interviewer when you’re looking for the right company, I really admire people who I interview that believe in their own value and aren’t afraid to ask me a ton of questions.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTOMOTIVE BRAND? // It’s all things Italian for me – Ferrari!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FASHION LABEL? // Paul Smith, Ted Baker, Reiss and All Saints make up most of my wardrobe.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE WATCH BRAND? // I don’t have one.
YOUR GREATEST LOVE? // Skiing.
YOUR GREATEST FEAR? // Heights so no Skydive Dubai for me I’m afraid.
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST MEMORY? // A family Christmas when I was 3.
WHO IS YOUR ROLE MODEL AND WHY? // I’m not sure he’s my role model but the words of Richard Branson were pretty inspiring when I was making the decision to move over to the UAE – “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure if you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”
WHAT IS THE LAST GIFT YOU GAVE SOMEONE? // I bought our Graphic Designer, Bryan, a fridge magnet from Singapore – he makes everyone in the office get him a fridge magnet whenever we go away.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE CHILDREN? // Treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself.
YOUR WORST TRAIT? // My inability to switch my mind off when I go to bed.
THE WORST TRAIT IN OTHERS THAT GETS YOU MAD? // I don’t tend to get mad.
WHO WOULD PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE? // Danny Wallace for the likeness, so I’m told.
FAVOURITE MUSIC? // Anything at Jazz@PizzaExpress! Failing that some Hip-Hop.
LAST RECORD / DOWNLOAD YOU BOUGHT? // Love & Hate by Michael Kiwanuka.
FAVOURITE BOOK? // The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
LAST BOOK YOU BOUGHT? // The Girl in the Spider’s Web – pure coincidence!
THE CLOSEST YOU HAVE COME TO DEATH? // My appendix burst when I was 10 – luckily I got to the hospital in time!
FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // Either Cuba or Barcelona.
LEAST FAVOURITE DESTINATION? // I’ve genuinely liked everywhere I’ve visited.
HOW DO YOU RELAX? // Here in Dubai it just has to be on the beach.
ARE YOU SPORTY? // Not as sporty as I used to be however I have signed up for the RAK Half Marathon in February.
BEACH OR DESERT? // Beach.
URBAN OR RURAL? // Urban, for now.
CATS OR DOGS? // Dogs.
COFFEE OR TEA? // Coffee.
WHAT MAKES YOU LAUGH? // Usually anything written by Ricky Gervais.
WHATS MAKES YOU CRY? // Losing people I love.
YOUR MESSAGE? // If you don’t enjoy what you do then you’re doing the wrong thing.