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Project Pie opening in Dundee

9 February 2015

Project Pie outside

Abertay graduate and entrepreneur Niall Howard is opening a new pizza eaterie in Dundee this weekend, bringing a successful design-your-own-pizza chain to the UK from America.

Project Pie opens on Valentine’s Day, this Saturday 14 February, in Reform Street near Abertay. Niall picked Dundee as the first location in the UK and Ireland and he’s aiming to open 60 restaurants over the next five years.

Niall graduated with an Honours degree in Business Studies in 1981 where he also won the prize for top student. We caught up with him recently to find out about the business and a very successful career at the height of international business, including running the global Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant business Hakkasan and opening a major restaurant in Las Vegas with Calvin Harris as resident DJ.

Project Pie really really hot  

Project Pie

“It surprises people to hear that pizza is the fastest growing fast food in the UK, as well as being the most popular fast food. Getting the opportunity to bring Project Pie here from the US was too good an opportunity to miss and we’ve got very ambitious plans to build the franchise here.

“Dundee was the obvious choice for our first restaurant – it’s got such a great student population and it’s a city on the up. Becoming the UK’s first UNESCO City of Design is great, and the plans for the Waterfront and the V&A are really building investor confidence in the city.

“Our focus with Project Pie is quality – providing people with a great experience and great food. You pick your toppings, our oven cooks it at 330°C in under three minutes, and you can take it away or sit in. We’ve gone for a really relaxed fun atmosphere inside, bare brick walls, lots of light. It’s a place for quick, great food and spending time with your friends.”

Niall Project Pie

Dundee roots

“I started my studies back in 1976 and it’s hard to explain how much Dundee has changed. We used to eat at a Wimpey on Reform Street so it’s very strange and very exciting to be bringing an affordable, high quality restaurant here now!

“Through the degree I did industrial placements each summer, getting work experience while I was still studying. That made such a difference to learning about the world of work and it secured my first job at Conoco. Through different jobs I got my accounting qualifications and moved to a financial services role at RBS in Edinburgh.

“I worked at Standard Life Investments and the National Australia Group as well, and also took a role as Chief Financial Officer at the distillers William Grant & Sons which produces great spirits like Glenfiddich.”

Project Pie first team

Michelin-starred success

“Perhaps my biggest achievement came from the challenge of turning a business around. I was brought in to review the Hakkasan restaurant in London by a friend in Abu Dhabi. It was struggling financially despite being an incredible fine dining experience.

“I presented my review to the owners and was invited to run the company, which I initially refused! I grew the company to a very secure financial footing and expanded it across the world. There are now 15 locations worldwide, from Mayfair in London to Dubai, New York and Shanghai. We won multiple Michelin stars due to the incredibly hard work and talent of Tong Chee Hwee and his team of chefs.

“Opening an 80,000 square foot restaurant and night club in the MGM Grand casino in Las Vegas was definitely the biggest and most ambitious launch. We secured Calvin Harris as the resident DJ – two Scots bringing Michelin-starred Chinese food to Las Vegas!

“I grew the global company from 300 to 2,300 staff and was voted on the top ten most influential restaurateurs in the UK, which is something I’m incredibly proud of.”

Project Pie interior main

Tips for success

“For any students wanting to make it in business, I’d say work hard, take all the opportunities for work experience and placements that the University offers you, and always look at how you can develop your skills and your team.

“Looking back almost 34 years since I graduated from Bell Street, I’ve been all over the world and run companies I never would have imagined back then. I’m sure today’s Abertay students will have many incredible stories to tell of their business successes in 34 years’ time!”

You can find out more about Project Pie on its website, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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