Creating a pizza that’s going to be loved by the consumer in this part of the world is no child’s play. Pakistanis are very definitive in their choices: they either love an eatery, or hate it with all their guts (no pun intended)- there’s no grey area in between. And this unspoken rule holds truer for pizza parlours than any other category. If you have a look at the number of pizza houses that have crashed and burned in this coastal city in just half a decade, you’ll realize what I mean.
The first one to come crashing down was King Burger in Bahadurabad. If you don’t know about this place, you must have been living under a rock. King Burger was to pizza in Karachi what Mr. Burger was to the ‘burger’ burger- a pioneer. It opened way back in late 80s and introduced this Italian dish when no one had even heard of it in this part of the world –let alone be infatuated with Pizza Hut. The fact that it survived till the start of the millennium tells you something about the popularity of the place. Why it closed shop has more to do with the onslaught of foreign competitors than any major folly on its part.
The second major casualty was Pappasallis, one of the few local restaurant chains actually exported to Karachi from the rest of the country. Pappasallis was a happening Italian restaurant of Islamabad ( I believe it still is), and when I visited it back in 1998, it offered a diverse variety of scrumptious stuff, of which pizza was just one of the items.
Then it came to Karachi in 2001, and although it was still sumptuous and opened with much fanfare, it didn’t appeal to the olfactory sense of Karachiites, closing shop within a year. Or maybe the location was the problem. In Islamabad it was situated right in the heart of its major super market, in Karachi it opened in an obscure commercial district of one of the Khayabans in phase VI right next to the super market Rajani’s. Rajani’s didn’t last long either, so maybe that whole lane is jinxed.
But the biggest flop to date has got to be Papa John’s. I’ve heard that it has only moved and not wrapped up business altogether, but I can’t imagine why, considering it was located on a prime site, just beside the ‘Do Talwar’ roundabout. Again, there was nothing wrong with the taste. Maybe the problem is with the consumer taste preference.
Pizza Hut has made such emphatic inroads into the Pakistani heart and mouth, that any pizza deviating from Pizza Hut’s taste is rejected by the masses, as if that’s the Holy Grail of Pizzadom. And Papa John was definitely a unique taste altogether different from the Pizza Hut.
Dominos seems to be heading towards the same fate although it continues to hang on. Again no problem with the taste, just different and a bit on the expensive side. Dominos continued to operate solely as a Takeaway and delivery brand, from Clifton adjacent to the famous Damascus, faithful to its brand essence. Then it decided to spread its wings and opened its’ first diner shop at a prime location on National Stadium Road adjacent to Copper Kettle. And it was a huge double story parlour, but it remained deserted like a ghost town. Ultimately it moved from there to University Road near one of the Pizza Hut outlets. Whether it will pick up business there remains to be seen.
Another lesser known casualty was La Pizzo Pie, which was located opposite BBQ Tonight adjacent to the Mars Ice Cream Parlour. Location-wise, it wasn’t the ideal spot because it wasn’t located on the main street opposite the BBQ tonight like the Mars parlour but on the other side leading towards the sea-side just before the Clifton Grill, but unlike CG it was quite far from the main road so much so that it wasn’t easily visible.
It was a small cozy diner, immaculately designed in line with the pizza essence. But their greatest tactic was the use of a membership card, an idea which pizza hut used to great effect and which was instrumental in making Pizza Hut a household name even in areas like Gulshan and Nazimabad. LPP’s membership was even more generous than the PH one, offering 50% discounts a lot more than PH. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and the place closed down.
Pizza Express is hanging on barely by changing names one after the other, from Express to Experts and now to ‘Kiing’.
Almost all the pizza parlors thriving today are those which ape the Pizza Hut recipe. Pizza Next, Pizza One and Penny Pizza are three such hits. Pizza 2000 is the rare exception which doesn’t imitate the Pizza Hut taste and yet continues to hold steady.
And now we have the Pizza Factory. It’s not an upscale restaurant, nor is it located in an upscale area – the main boulevard leading from Jauhar Mor to Jauhar Chowrangi. What’s different about it is that it does not imitate Pizza Hut, secondly, it is striving to project an aura of an upscale food joint courtesy some shrewd interior designing. What’s more, it got off to a flyer, offering a buy 1 get 1 free deal right at the launch, which was splashed on a billboard on the main boulevard. That really create a buzz about the place, something you desperately need right at the outset to be able to survive the first two scary years. They say if you survive the first two hellish years both in marriage and restaurateurship, chances are you’ll make it.
So we landed at the place one day to test drive their offering. Yes, they have done a pretty good job with the interior and all, and the place is good enough even for families, which is not something you can say for the rest of the lot on that particular food street. The dim red light ambience was a bit unsettling though, reminding me of the helicopter interior with the red lights at the start of Predator- first part.
The ‘buy 1 get 1 free’ deal was gone, however there were some other deals that would have been great had this been a genuinely upscale joint. But brilliant effort on their part to try to pass off as a superior pizza parlour with the help of some cunning interior play and premium pricing.
And it would have succeeded tremendously even in that neighborhood if it had just focused a bit more on the actual product behind the brand. You see, branding efforts can take you only so far. The actual product has to be good as well, at least having the POP (Points of Parity).
Coming back to the test drive, we ordered their Deal One, which comprised of 2 large pizzas, 4 garlic breads and a 1.5 litre PET drink for Rs.889 inclusive of taxes. First the garlic breads. There was hardly any essence of garlic and were a bit too dry. They should have at least buttered it if they couldn’t afford the cheese.
Then came the pizzas. We ordered Chicken Smoke and Chicken BBQ. There was no Supreme which was disappointing. One thing confusing about the choice of chicken pizzas was that there was a chicken tikka as well as a chicken bbq pizza. When we asked what was the difference between the two, the waiter said there wasn’t any difference except that the bbq was the hotter version. We accepted this explanation.
Then the pizzas came. As you can see from the snaps, they definitely looked appetizing, barring the one flaw which almost every pizza parlour is guilty of deliberately putting it there- the lack of filling at the fag end of the slice.
However when we tasted it, we felt….. nothing. That’s it. There was no taste whatsoever- no salt, no chillies, no nothing. It was as if we were eating only the bread part. To be fair to them, they had put on substantial filling including the chicken and olives on the base, (except the ‘mandatory’ far end), and yet there was literally no taste on either of the pizzas. Remarkable feat I would say, considering there was enough pizza sauce on it. We tried our best to sex it up with the four different spices lying on the table (they probably know their pizzas taste all the same) plus the salt, but to no avail.
The only rational explanation we can come up with, is that they didn’t use quality cheese plus the chicken botis were probably just plain boiled- they weren’t marinated or even BBQed as the menu claimed.
To conclude, it’s a shame that the Pizza Factory people having done so much to promote their den are not putting the same effort into the making of their core product. With the nice ambience and the remarkably courteous waiters in this part of town, they have the perfect recipe for Pizza Glory if only they can bring some taste into it.