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London’s Landlords Bet on More of the Same as Pizza Pilgrims Taps Eight Openings

The chain’s pizza in the post was a lockdown hit, but the new openings cadence at large suggests London is just settling

Diners sit outside Pizza Pilgrims
Diners sit outside Pizza Pilgrims
Michaël Protin/Eater London

Popular chain Pizza Pilgrims is intending to open eight more London restaurants in 2021, as the post-lockdown coronavirus land grab continues to suggest that the city’s landlords know what they want. What they want is safe bets. What they want is pizza.

Four initial openings in Waterloo, Queensway, Finsbury Park, and Marble Arch will be followed by four more later in the year, according to Big Hospitality. The basis for the opening is not just that London continues to enjoy pizza, but that Pizza Pilgrims’ lockdown move, the frying pan “pizza in the post,” was enough of a hit to let the brand “focus on its core London estate” ahead of regional openings. National mail orders strengthen its recognition outside London; that recognition outlasts the meal kit’s shine and bides time for other expansion.

Each new pizzeria will contain some nifty touches — Piaggio Ape vans decommissioned to use as tables in Waterloo; a cinema in Queensway — but however much the company may want to stay away from it, the news is another piece of track on London’s road to reopening, and that road currently looks pretty familiar.

Gordon Ramsay will open more gourmet burger restaurants to form a gourmet burger chain, one on the site of Byron, another gourmet burger chain that overexpanded itself and collapsed without the assistance of a global pandemic. Harts Group will bring its Mexican restaurant, El Pastor, to a huge Soho site; Lewis Hamilton-backed vegan burger chain Neat Burger aims for seven new restaurants; Patty and Bun will convert its lockdown Nando’s rip-off into a fully fledged restaurant right next to ... A Patty and Bun.

This is unsurprising: coronavirus shut down a lot of restaurants, and left a lot of “desirable” sites vacant. Landlords are facing a market where many restaurants can’t afford rent, so anyone leasing a new space is at an advantage. In return for reduced rent, payment holidays, or both, landlords will look instead at the ability to eventually make enough money to make those payments, and in time make higher payments. Their metrics are going to look at proven success, be it financial or otherwise, which inherently favours replication — chains — and certain, limited food groups. Pizza, pasta, burgers: it’s time to shine, and shine they will, particularly, it seems in zone one.

But for how long? The slowed down but ongoing casual dining crunch is often attributed to London having too many restaurants, but its casualties — Jamie Oliver, Prezzo, Strada, Byron, Gourmet Burger Kitchen — suggest that more precisely, there were too many of the same restaurant relying on private equity investment, over-expanding, and seeing their bubbles burst. Today’s expanders, not just Pizza Pilgrims, will hope they are not on the way to reproducing the conditions of 2017 for themselves in 2027.