In 1991, Philippe Vorst was trying to think of an interesting subject for his thesis to finish his Economics study. When he heard from his brother about the booming pizza slice industry in the US, he decided to write his thesis about how to start a similar pizza slice business in The Netherlands. 2 years later, together with his brother and friend, Philippe opened the first New York Pizza restaurant in the centre of Amsterdam. The formula was a huge hit and they quickly opened more restaurants. In 1996 New York Pizza started to deliver pizzas to its customers, so everyone could eat pizzas at home. Now, 25 years later, New York Pizza has 180 franchised venues all over the Netherlands.
In this blog you’ll find out more about the man behind this Pizza Imperium – Philippe Vorst – and learn about the secret formula, the future of fast food, Philippe’s advice for business students and, of course, the founder’s favourite pizza!
Philippe, what is your current role at New York Pizza?
I used to be the manager and boss of NYP. At the moment, I’m more like a coach and developer of my company. Very often, I have ideas but I let others carry them out. My job is to educate the new generation of employees so I can do other stuff. By training people to become more entrepreneurial and smarter, I’m bringing New York Pizza to a higher level.
What is the secret formula behind the success of New York Pizza?
It’s the consistency of good, tasty pizzas and constant innovation. Ordering one of our pizzas is just very convenient. Besides, the market is growing, leaving us possibilities to expand.
You had nine fierce competitors in the early days of New York Pizza, it’s not an easy job building a successful company. However, it’s considered an even harder job to keep a company successful. How do you do that?
Innovation. The market is changing crazy fast, the only way to survive is to change as well. We are developing in every area, always trying to keep our company modern and up-to-date. For example, we’re building awesome new shops at the moment, with completely new designs. However, we’re already working on the designs for after the new shops. If you like change, that’s fantastic. If you don’t, you’ll see your company perish. Blokker, V&D, C&A, all of them got huge problems because they stayed the same. H&M en Zara competed them away by refreshing their clothes every week. New York Pizza stays relevant for customers by inventing new pizza flavours and by introducing social initiatives; 1 euro of each Sea Shepherd Vegan Pizza sold, goes to Sea Shepherd, an organization that protects sharks. Unfortunately for me (and the sharks), I don’t like the vegan pizzas, the vegan cheese isn’t my thing. But it’s not about what I like, it’s about what the customers like. If you don’t eat cheese, fine, but I eat cheese.
What is your character quality that makes you a successful entrepreneur?
I’m fanatical, I like to win. I love consumer marketing, food, innovation, customers and tasty pizza! I just like what I do and I’m thankful for it.
What were the most difficult times?
The first year, we did everything wrong; we tried to copy our success in Amsterdam to other cities, this was a huge mistake. We would have gone bankrupt without the help of my companions, they pumped lots of money in the company in order to save it. Then, 3 years after opening our first restaurant, we started doing delivery of pizzas, this was a great step. We made so many mistakes with people and with developments. In the end, they are valuable lessons.
People want to live healthier and are more conscious on their health, how do you see the future on fast-food?
It’s not completely true that people want to live healthier. People will always want to eat tasty, easy food for a good price. Loetje is always full, those fries and steaks are incredibly unhealthy. Same for McDonald’s, with a revenue of 811 million euros previous year, an insane growth compared to the years before. New York Pizza is within the fast food market by far the healthiest. We don’t have any artificial flavours, smell enhancers nor any colour additives. We’re also working very hard to sell meat on the pizzas that is free from antibiotics and hormones. This will take perhaps a few more years before we got that settled. With New York Pizza, we don’t do anything harmful, we sell tosti’s; when you put meat on top, it becomes less healthy, when you put veggies on top, it becomes healthier. Humans are the only animals on this planet that eat more than they need. Fast food will always exist. I just think you need to be responsible as a company, which is what we do.
What does success mean to you?
Having a healthy wife and children, having enough money to feed them, doing things that I love. I know rich people that I think are very unsuccessful, they don’t appreciate the small things, they don’t care about the environment, they only consume. Of course, I like to make success, but I also don’t mind to make some mistakes. Three steps forward, one step backwards. I realize that I’m making fewer steps backwards as I’m getting more experienced.
Who or what has inspired you to be where you are now?
I read a lot. The newspaper, the financial newspaper ‘FD’. Books about other entrepreneurs inspire me, I just finished reading Shoe Dog about the founder of Nike. I’m a huge fan of the investing strategies of Warren Buffett. He’s very down-to-earth in his logic, that appeals to me.
Talking about fast food, have you seen what Buffett eats on a daily basis?
Haha yes, insane. He starts his days at McDonald’s, drinks Cola the entire day, eats the biggest steaks in town. But besides eating like a maniac, I believe he gave away 79 billion of his 80 billion to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I admire him, very inspirational man. He doesn’t do it for the money, but for the kick.
So what gives you the biggest kick?
Actually, it’s the small things. A boy from my street was biking with his friend. The boy says: “Look! That’s the owner of New York Pizza!” The boy’s friend simply answers: “Cool!” Those small gestures are just awesome and give me a kick, I’m pretty childish about these things. Or when I hear random people say that they love the pizzas from NYP, that makes me happy.
My favourite question, what is your best advice for students?
No matter what you study, finish your studies. Law, business, history, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s a brain training, it teaches you to think. Warren Buffett has some great advice as well: “What are the long-term prospects of the market that you want to work in and what can you add to it?” If you want to do something in the post-delivery, then you must be a really smart guy or girl to find opportunities. If you want to start something in the tech world, you must be smart as well, but there are a lot more possibilities, lots of processes can be improved. Also, to become rich is not a purpose on its own, it’s most important to have fun doing it!
Finally, the most important question which I simply can’t skip; what is your favourite pizza?
The Hot Tandoori Chicken used to be my favourite pizza for twenty years; jalapeno peppers, red onions, delicious! But I fell in love with another pizza, I found the new Moroccan Chicken even tastier!
Do you feel hungry and are you inspired by this interview? Order a pizza and start reading our other motivational career blogs right here.
Written by Sem Kotek