Nick Freeman, head of marketing at PizzaExpress UAE says the best thing about his role is the freedom to be creative.
Describe your first ever role in the F&B industry?
Straight after graduating I scored a job in a small village in Hertfordshire, UK, where I was the 10th head office employee working for an aptly-named start-up called Innovate. The company’s mission was to “transform school catering”, helping schools across England to invest in building great restaurants to rival those on the high street. Schools would have superb, colourful restaurants and cafeterias, which could then be operated by Innovate on a commercial basis. This was a departure from the traditional, uninspiring canteens run by larger corporations and propped up by heavy management fees. Our office was a converted stable and we had around 20 chickens in the garden. It was a brilliant place to work and I enjoyed three-and-a-half years there. At Innovate, I met celebrity chef, Gino D’Acamp, who led me into my next F&B role.
Who has inspired you most in your career?
Co-founder and chairman of Innovate, Geoff Peppiatt, really took me under his wing and gave me a crash course in marketing and business management. I learned so much under his guidance, it was almost like doing a second stint at university.
How do you view the F&B scene in the region?
It’s certainly challenging. There are now so many brands competing for market share and so many new developments across the country. As an ambitious, expanding brand in the local market, it is important to select the right locations for new restaurants to fuel continued growth.
What is the biggest challenge of your role?
We have restaurants in very different parts of the UAE, from Fujairah City Center, through our Jazz set-up in JLT to Kidzania in Dubai Mall. This means we need to communicate with – and understand – customers of different cultures, ages and languages. This adds a layer of complexity when coming up with a new campaign.
What is the best aspect of your role?
Freedom! PizzaExpress promotes good ideas, so it’s very rewarding to see so many ideas from the team come to fruition. As a leadership team, we are trusted to understand the region in which we operate and to take appropriate business decisions. It’s really exciting to be so close to the action and to have such a hand in the success of this great company here in the Middle East.
If you could work in any restaurant in the world, would it be?
I recently watched the series, Chef’s Table, on Netflix, and the first episode about Massimo Bottura and his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, was truly inspiring. His passion for ingredients and his total dedication to creating sublime cuisine has led to such immense success. I’m not sure I’d last long, but I’d like to spend time in Massimo’s kitchen!
What tip would you share with new staff starting out in the F&B industry in the region?
Be flexible. This region is exciting because it’s developing so fast, but sometimes it presents unexpected challenges or opportunities at very short notice, and you need to be able to react to succeed.
Oct 2015 – present: Head of marketing, PizzaExpress
Jun 2014 – Sep 2015: Marketing manager, New York University of Abu Dhabi for ADNH Compass
Aug 2009 – May 2014: Marketing manager, Innovate Services/My Pasta Bar – Gino D’Acampo