In the years before the pandemic, Alex Robson had a steady job in the advertising industry.
At the beginning of 2020, the 34-year-old Croydon resident left his job of many years to become sales and marketing director at a production house.
However, what should have been just a new chapter for Robson, turned out to be the stepping stone to something much bigger, and tastier.
Robson’s first day at the new job was coincidently the first day of lockdown. “I was in a new place and suddenly, there was a pandemic,” he says. “It was a real struggle.
“I managed to hold the job for three months, but since the company worked within the movie production and advertising industry, one of the first things that suffered great losses was their advertising budgets.”
In fact, according to the latest IPA Bellwether Report, a net balance of 51 per cent of UK marketers recorded a decline in their budgets in the second quarter of 2020.
“I was unlucky. The pandemic came along at the worst time possible for me,” Robson says.
Soon enough, Robson was laid off and made redundant. However unfortunate this was at the time, the young man didn’t let Covid get the better of him.
“After many months of searching for jobs, and not finding anything in the advertising industry, I wasn’t sure of what to do,” the former marketing executive says. “One day I was making food for my girlfriend and as she was eating, she said that the food was so good that she would pay for it.
“At that moment, something inside me clicked. Cooking was something I’ve always wanted to do, so after hearing her say that I started looking into how I could find a job in the food industry,” he said.
The love of making pizza
Robson made up for his lack of experience with enthusiasm and wit. “I looked into how much it would be to start up a business in the restaurant industry, and being a street food vendor was the most affordable thing I could pursue.”
“I always loved making pizza more than any other type of food, so I probed into what was the feasibility of having a street food pizza pop up. Then, I looked at other types of infrastructure, figured out what street food vendors had on-site, and what type of costs and training I’d need,” he said.
“I’ve lived in Croydon for quite some time, and in my opinion, there is no good Neapolitan pizza here. And if I couldn’t find it, I thought I might as well make it.”
In the twinkling of an eye, Robson had everything lined up to get his business on the move. The only thing missing was the money – a problem that was soon settled after a successful crowdfunding campaign. In only a couple of months, Robson had raised enough money to get Penny’s Pizza started.
The name, Penny’s Pizza, is a tribute to Robson’s late mother, Penny, who passed away from cancer in 2015.
He says: “She taught me so much about cooking and how to properly put together a meal. Now I have my mom’s name on the door, every day I go to work.”
On November 24, which happens to be Robson’s late mum’s birthday, Penny’s Pizza launched at Surrey Street Market in Croydon. “We had a great first day, with lots of people coming to try the food. To have a lot of attention, given that it was wintertime, was a really promising sign.”
‘From no option to right option’
All good things must come to an end, and only a week after Penny’s Pizza’s successful opening, tier two was introduced in London. Luckily for Robson, his food spoke volumes to his next-door neighbours at the market.
He says: “I linked up with a pub on Surrey Street, Art & Craft Cro. Apparently, they loved my food, and since they needed a substantial meal service to remain open under the new restrictions, they wanted my pizzas in their pub. I said yes – and let me tell you, beer and pizza go really well together!”
Once again, Penny’s Pizza was a great success. However, with Christmas came lockdown number three, and Robson was forced to rethink his business model.
“I went back to Art & Craft Cro and asked them to use their kitchen since you need a business address to work with delivery services, which they agreed to. Now I’m working out of the pub, in Surrey Street, where I’ve started and have always been, running a delivery and collection service through Just Eat and Deliveroo.”
In the two months that Robson has been operating, he had quite a lot of obstacles to overcome. However, he shows no regrets.
“I’m very happy to go to work, which I wasn’t before. This is my baby, my first business. I haven’t had one negative review so far, which is promising. That gives me a lot of motivation and keeps me going, no matter how difficult it might be,” he says.
“If you’re not happy, then look for an alternative. Sometimes it takes having no options at all to find the right option for yourself.”