BUSINESS: How two men started a £3.5million pizza company after meeting in their local pub

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Two men who met in their local pub are now making millions from the pizza company they named after it.

Matteo Ferrari – Teo for short – and Nick Croft-Simon were working part time at the White Rabbit pub in Oxford when they came up with the idea that’s set to make £3.5million this year.

Teo was just finishing up his studies, working part time in the kitchen, while Nick had recently graduated and was helping out behind the bar.

But it wasn’t the first time Teo had made pizza – having helped out in his uncle’s pizzeria in Milan.

“So very quickly, Teo started adding his own flair to the existing pizza menu at the pub, with new flavours and everything he learnt from his heritage at his uncle’s,” Nick said.

But along with the new flavours, the pair realised a lot of people simply couldn’t enjoy Teo’s work.

“We noticed that a lot of people who entered the pub as a group, often one of them couldn’t enjoy that pizza because of an intolerance to gluten – that gave us the first idea to start developing a gluten-free recipe for pizza,” Nick said.

As more requests came in, Teo started experimenting – determined to find a way to make a “free from” pizza taste as good as his other ones.

It took a year to get there, but eventually both Teo and the pub’s customers were happy with the finished result and in that moment The White Rabbit Pizza Company was born.

The firm launched in 2015 with Teo designing their own bakery from scratch to make sure everything tasted as good as possible, with Jonny Brackenbury, of Soho House Group fame, a founding investor.

“I love the idea of creating something from a sticky, really soft dough into a lovely amazing, crispy dish,” Teo, now 32-year-old, said.

“To me, it’s really important to personally source all the ingredients for my pizzas and so they mainly come from Italy.”

As well as being gluten-free, many of the pizza’s coming from Teo’s kitchen are also dairy and soy-free – and his work soon started getting recognition beyond the pub’s doors.

Awards started to flow in, including the Great Taste awards, PAPA industry awards and the Free From Food awards.

And along with the awards came interest from supermarkets.

The range was snapped up by Sainsbury’s and Waitrose – and is now being sold more than 750 UK stores as well as online through people like Ocado.

“Seeing our pizza in the local supermarket was really exciting,” Teo said.

“Traditionally, pizza is an inclusive meal to be shared by all, and we wanted to carry this into our ethos as a brand: ultimately, the idea was to have people of all diets around the same dinner table eating the same uncompromised meal, whether they’re coeliac, vegan or an eater of everything!”

The firm is expected to make £3.5million this year, almost double last year’s utrnover as it hits more stores and introduces more products.

Nick, now 29, said: “We’re incredibly excited for the year ahead, we have new recipes launching, new flavours, as well as expanding the team further.”

He’s also making changes to the packaging the pizzas are shipped in to make sure they’re as sustainable as possible.

“Having that kind of control over our product is what will ensure it always stands out from the crowd,” Nick said.

“It also means we can be incredibly agile versus the bigger players in our space, constantly adapting to what our consumers want, as well as the wider market in general.”

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