PI owners’ focus on quality food at fair price a recipe for success
New Traders: Style and substance happily merge at new pizza restaurant in D2
PI co-owner John Savage at work: PI “feels like a natural progression, as if I’ve been waiting for it to happen”. Photograph: Tom Honan
Making the best pizzas in Dublin is a reasonable enough premise for setting up a business. Making a success of it is another story. PI, which opened over the summer in South Great George’s Street to no small excitement and the pleasure of many a pizza lover, looks like it’s got the recipe right. And a lot more besides.
PI the venue speaks for the venture, and it has a lot to say for itself as you step into its soaring style, cool comfort and buoyant buzz. From a silver can-lined wall to white-tiled tabletops and window seating, this is an establishment that knows what it’s about, a confident eatery where style and substance have happily merged – and where pizzas tip from a roaring oven.
The oven comes from Naples and the dough-mixer from Verona, while the mozzarella is made by Toonsbridge Dairy in Cork. The PI vision is Neapolitan-inspired, with ideas borrowed from NYC and the home territories.
The whole thing was put together and is being run by two energetic 34-year-olds. John Savage hails from Banbridge, Co Down and Reg White (who is head chef) from Abbeyleix, Co Laois. PI is their first venture together and they are “in it for the long haul”, Savage says.
“If people embrace PI we’ll open in other locations. Initially these will be in Dublin 2, after that Cork and Galway. We’ll be spreading the word about good pizzas but for now are focused on getting it right here.”
They had kicked around the idea, or variations of it, “for some time”. Nothing’s been simple, he says. “Nothing’s been left unanalysed and unscrutinised; we’ve thought about everything.”
Even the simplicity of the name PI has ramifications. “The mathematical formula and its precision is one aspect,” Savage says, “plus in the US ‘pie’ is short for pizza, plus it’s a short and snappy name.” He produces the standard PI white plate. “We looked at hundreds and finally determined on this one because of how easily it allowed the pizza wheel cut through.”
White, who has had years of involvement with “food and travel and knowing things”, says PI “feels like a natural progression, as if I’ve been waiting for it to happen”.
Savage’s route to PI was more circuitous. A stint in property in Northern Ireland followed his graduation from TCD with a law degree in 2006. In January 2008, he “saw the writing on the wall for the property market, went travelling with friends, visited China and Brazil, returned home into the middle of a shit-storm, studied for an MA in real estate marketing and finance through Reading University while working in Quail, the restaurant in the FE McWilliam in Banbridge.”
By 2010 Savage was working for Deloitte in London. He was back in Dublin 3½ years later, working for Google. By 2016 he was back in property with the Ronan Group.
“Property’s in the blood,” he says. “My dad ran a contracting firm for 50 years. But I’ve always been passionate about food and, looking around, saw there was no consensus about the best pizza in Dublin. I also saw this as a way of creating a business out of my passion.” His guiding criteria were location and quality of product. He identified the St Great George’s Street property, one-time location of Havana tapas bar, and got the keys last April.
Injection of drama
Work began immediately. “The builder took the keys from my hand as I was leaving an office, having signed. I project-managed the design project, working on a design concept drawn up by the very talented Luca Architects.”
There were five key elements to their design needs. “I wanted an injection of drama in the upstairs toilets, a contrast with the muted downstairs style. [The toilets are red and black and smokily lit.] I wanted a wall filled with cans, after the style of traditional Italian trattorias. I wanted window seating, to give people views of the busy street, and I wanted a mix of high and low seating and great functionality.”
Wines were stringently chosen. Wine master Jane Boyce came up with a list and Colm Douglas of Corkscrew assures they get the best. PI doesn’t serve hot drinks. “The trend is to focus on one thing, plus dining well. We want to be known for our pizzas. Wine and beer are natural accompaniments.”
The partners attribute their meeting up “was serendipity”. Introduced by a mutual friend in September 2017, they sussed their shared passion for food and realised that their philosophical “commitment to quality food at a fair price” was similar. They put their own money into PI, sourced some from a third party, and, as business partners/owners, have sole control of the business.
Their pizzas are all 12-inch and prices range from €9 to €16. They aim to bring the average price down, in time, to offer the customer even more value. “We’ve been well received,” Savage says, “and have had a handful of very positive reviews”.
There is one variation to pizza on the menu: White’s signature Chocolate Budino, a sinful pleasure for which this writer can vouch. It has chocolate, eggs, milk and cream, a little sugar and the texture of soft butter. The chef assures that he uses “only Cacao Barry, the best chocolate there is”.
But only, of course, after much thought and trial.