Wimpy. Hoffmeister. Baskin Robbins.

For everything, there is a gateway. An introduction to something beyond the freezer section of Safeway.

For pizza, the first taste of authentic for many, may well have been Pizza Express. After a childhood of Findus French Bread or American Deep Pan, the thin based – tossed in the air – pepperoni pizza from Pizza Express, was the embodiment of a film induced, Italian dream.

I remember being told to dress up. To wear a shirt and trousers to eat pizza when we went there. No jeans allowed. As if it was a cultural experience.

I think a family member saw a branch on the King’s Road, or heard jazz flute at the Camden branch. Jazz and mozzarella. It would take years for me to fully appreciate both.

Yet for every gateway, there is a successor. There are better burgers, better lagers – far better ice creams. I remember eating a pizza at Buonasera in Clapham and vowing never to go back to Pizza Express.

Then you have kids. That seems to be the crux of it. Families go to Pizza Express. Crayons and hats like the pizziola wears. Everything is wipe clean. Things can be broken, but not ruined. I still wore a shirt. It’s what 40yos do when “going out for the late afternoon”.

Then the service dipped. You waited for your food. Waited for a second drink. Waited even longer to pay your bill.

The gimmicks stacked up higher than the empty plates. New doughs, new thickness; holes in the middle. The menu went from a handful of choices to a random selection of marketing ideas.

So we stopped going. As have a lot of people. Which is one of the reasons they appear to be in trouble.

You’ll see no humour here. A company going to the wall means jobs lost and families in trouble. It stopped being a thing for us, but was a life for others.

In the same way I will still have a Stella or eat ice cream in an oyster shell, Pizza Express was there, when there was nothing else. Nothing comparable. Where is the joke in that?

A grainy image of Pizza Express on Street Lane, Leeds. Where we spent an early NYE with a child – as what else do you do with a small one on a night like that

Chris Written by:

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