PETER BOIZOT AT 77: No plans to sit back and relax just yet

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ONE of Peterborough's most successful entrepreneurs Peter Boizot MBE is celebrating his 77th birthday on Thursday, November 9. This week business editor Sarah Gunthardt takes a look back over the career of the well-respected city businessman who is best known nationally as the founder of the highly successful PizzaExpress chain of restaurants.

ONE of Peterborough's most successful entrepreneurs Peter Boizot MBE is celebrating his 77th birthday on Thursday, November 9. This week business editor Sarah Gunthardt takes a look back over the career of the well-respected city businessman who is best known nationally as the founder of the highly successful PizzaExpress chain of restaurants. FOR many years Peter Boizot has invested to revive and bring new life to businesses in Peterborough while helping charitable causes along the way, and in 1986 he was rewarded with an MBE in recognition of political and public service.

Peter has enjoyed a remarkable career and at the age of 77 he has no plans for retirement. Born in Walton in 1929, Peter spent his early years in the city. A pupil at St Mark's School in Gladstone Street, he later became head pupil at King's School and then went on to achieve an honours degree in History from St Catharine's College, Cambridge.

In 1948 Peter first visited Italy as a tutor with an Italian family and ate his first pizza. As a vegetarian, the idea of a meat-free dish appealed to him.

For 10 years Peter spent time in Europe, teaching English in Paris, working for Nestl's publicity department in Switzerland and in the news photo department of Associated Press in Rome.

It was in these years that his love of pizza and Italian food grew and he found almost every continental city he visited offered pizza. On his return to London in 1964 Peter was unable to find any restaurants that served pizza. He decided to solve the problem by opening his own pizza restaurant that strived to be authentic.

In March 1965 PizzaExpress was born and the first restaurant opened in Wardour Street, Soho. Its popularity grew and Peter subsequently opened more PizzaExpress restaurants across London.

Today, the winning formula continues to work and the PizzaExpress chain now has 320 outlets in the UK and 61 aboard. Peter, who has been credited with bringing pizza to the UK, is still President of the restaurant chain company.

He maintains a strong relationship with the Italian community in Peterborough and through PizzaExpress has donated nearly 1.5 million (through his invention of pizza Veneziana) to the Venice in Peril charity – a percentage of the price of each pizza goes to help save Venice from rising sea levels. In 1983 he was given the "Bolla Award", an annual honour given to a Briton considered to have done the most for Venice.

His other achievements include founding the Soho Jazz Festival, becoming chairman of the Westminster Chamber of Commerce, receiving the Italian government's decoration Cavaliare and being appointed as Deputy Lieutenant of the county of Cambridgeshire.

In 1993 PizzaExpress was floated on the London Stock Exchange.

He said: "PizzaExpress has been a phenomenal success and I'm very proud of what we've achieved. We led the way for UK pizza restaurants and the company has gone from strength to strength. Its popularity and winning formula can be seen in a number of other restaurants that have followed our lead."

Peter decided to return to his roots and invest in businesses in Peterborough. He acquired the Great Northern Hotel, which he still owns, and in 1996 purchased the former Odeon cinema on Broadway. The cinema was in a state of disrepair following its closure in 1991 but Peter's passion for providing entertainment saw him investing 9 million to restore the venue and provide a top city centre entertainment complex.

The Odeon was renamed the Broadway and opened to the public in June 2001. The theatre, which was sold in 2004, continues to be a prime entertainment venue, offering music, dance and live comedy to a host of Peterborough residents.

A year after buying the Odeon, as a life-long fan of the Posh, Peter bought the city's then struggling football club in 1997 and became its owner and chairman. For six years Peter invested millions of pounds in the club and the city itself by ensuring that the club could continue.

In addition, Peter invested in Gaston's restaurant and his own art gallery, both within the Broadway complex, and the Miss Pears wine bar on Cumbergate.

"Peterborough is very close to my heart and after selling PizzaExpress the time was right to invest and establish other businesses in the city," commented Peter. "I was glad to be able to restore the Odeon, to help Posh and generally be able to invest in the city."

Peter Boizot inside Gaston's kitchens, conjuring up the famous Petriburgian Pizza – named Petriburgian after the name given to residents of the city – it is still available at Gaston's for 7.50 today.

Article by Business Editor Sarah Gunthardt, Have your say, send a comment now.