Discovering a Passion for Pizza

Umar Malik started out as a pizza delivery driver, working for two rival firms before joining Papa John’s as a franchisee in 2014. Last year, he opened four new Papa John’s in Wales and he now manages a total of seven stores - two in Swansea, three in Cardiff plus one in Neath and one in Newport. 

Staying focused 

“I grew up in Belgium and lived there until I was 18 before travelling to the UK to take a degree in business studies at Derby,” says Umar Malik. “I went onto complete an MBA at Carlisle and that’s where I first discovered my ‘passion for pizza’! I was at university during the day and working as a delivery driver in the evenings and at weekends. I used to dream about owning my own pizza outlet one day! 

“I strongly believe if you have a goal and stay focused and never give up, you will make it eventually, no matter how big that dream is. Then I found Papa John’s. John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s was and still is my inspiration. He started from nothing, selling his prized car to fund restaurant equipment to set up and went on to build one of the most successful pizza businesses in the world. He is still very hands-on and like many franchisees, I definitely aspire to be like him.” 

Papa John’s concept of ‘Better Ingredients, Better Pizza’ also impressed Umar Malik from the outset. Unlike other pizza brands as the company grew, he felt there was no compromise on quality. 

Papa John’s promotes the fact that it is the only branded pizza chain to use only 100% fresh hand thrown dough, giving a better natural flavour, say the brand. Plus, they use a unique tomato sauce made from the best Californian tomatoes, picked and packed from vine to can in just six hours. 

“The customers loved the high quality pizza and I’d never seen repeat business like it and so I kept at it and eventually found a way to fund my first Swansea Papa John’s through some savings plus a business loan from HSBC,” adds Umar Malik. 

Demand 

“My first store covered one half of Swansea, but it soon became clear there was a demand for a second outlet to cover the other half of the city,” recalls Umar Malik. 

“I was lucky to secure a great location on the new retail park close to ASDA and we were receiving calls from customers trying to place orders before we had even opened the second store! 

“My original plan was to open five franchised stores within two years. However, the franchise went from strength to strength and I ended opening seven! The incentive 

scheme run by Papa John’s to assist franchisees setting-up has been a great help. I received deals on equipment and franchise fees, which freed-up a little working capital to spend on other things like marketing. The recent Papa John’s TV advertising campaign has also proved a real boost to sales.” 

When you are growing fast like this, it is important to have a good team around you, points out Umar Malik. 

“Having started off at the bottom rungs of the career ladder, I know that everyone has a critical role to play from the delivery drivers who are a key customer interface, to the person who answers the phone to those who make the pizzas and the management staff. We are like one huge family working together to produce the best product and highest level of service that we can for our customers,” he says. 

Training 

Training staff properly is essential when it comes to creating a good, functional team and Papa John’s runs a comprehensive training scheme for both franchisees and staff which teaches them about every aspect of the business. 

Staff have the benefit of an E-learning portal called ULearn. They access it over the internet via a PC or store terminal and it offers a blended learning approach to training. 

ULearn is divided into 12 core modules designed to cover every essential aspect of the franchise. So, from new team member orientation to developing delivery driver skills, the visual and audio presentations provide staff with all the skills they need to succeed. Staff can also complete the Food Safety Level 2 certification. 

“It’s helpful as I manage multiple teams. It also is important when we are introducing new recipes for example. It allows us to communicate to all staff how to make the new pizza on a step-by-step basis, ensuring the consistent high-quality of our products,” Umar Malik continues. 

“Keeping in touch with customers is the other important aspect of running successful stores. We use a system called Rant and Rave which enables customers to deliver feedback via text straight after delivery so I can keep in-touch with how we are doing on service and quality on an hour-by-hour basis. 

“I also like to do my own random mystery shopping by placing orders regularly in each of my stores. In this way I can experience first-hand the whole customer journey and make any improvements as necessary. This usually means I eat pizza on a daily basis but with so many menu choices I never get tired of it!” 

Keeping motivated is important when you run any business and for Umar Malik, it always comes back to consistently producing the quality of the product they offer. 

“Our ‘All the Meats’ is our most popular pizza, for example, along with a giant choc chip cookie for dessert. We also do a version of chicken nuggets called Chicken Poppers which are oven baked, which make the perfect accompaniment to pizza. Customers have also been enjoying our new Hawaiian pizza lately, which is an industry first as it topped with fresh pineapple and premium ham. It is Papa John’s focus on the best ingredients to create a better pizza, combined with our levels of service, which keeps customers coming back for more,” he explains. 

“I joined Papa John’s when I was just 27 years old. I have enjoyed building my portfolio of stores, I feel I have grown with the brand. As Papa John’s evolved in the UK, so did I. I have also enjoyed communicating with and expanding my customer base as well as working with the team. Last year I opened four stores in 12 months, so it was a pretty busy time! This year I am looking at building the customer base for each outlet and constantly aiming to improve our levels of service with our focus firmly on creating the best pizza possible for our customers.”