A day in the life: Interview with Noura & Dan of Paradise Slice
This week we visited entrepreneurs Noura & Dan, a couple bringing authentic New York style pizza to East London’s famous Brick Lane through Paradise Slice, opened in November 2015.
- What time does your day start?
Noura: We get here for 10am, the first thing we do is turn on the oven then start to prep. Then we open the doors at 12pm and close at midnight.
Dan: We don’t open on Mondays – but we come in to make the dough.
- That brings us to our second question… Are you tea or coffee people?
Dan: Both – depends what time of day it is! Coffee to start and tea to keep us going throughout the day.
Noura: I used to be exclusively a tea person but this job made me start drinking coffee again. I used to be a barista and I think I just drank way too much of it, and it started to give me really bad heartburn, heart palpitations and shakes so I stopped drinking it in 2007! But this job got me back onto coffee!
- Tell us a bit about what you do at Paradise Slice.
Noura: What don’t we do! We prep all the food, do all the dishes, shopping and ordering. Between rushes we catch up on emails, order with our suppliers, we do all the finances, cashing up, sales tracking, scanning invoices. All that fun stuff. Then there’s the marketing strategy, which is something we wish we had more time for, but getting out from behind the counter is difficult at the moment.
Dan: There’s a lot of food related stuff – making all the sauces, shredding the cheeses, making all the toppings for the day. Also creating the veg special and the meat special, trying out new recipes, or trying to make things a little bit better. So a lot of tasting – even when you don’t want to do it.
Noura: We make our dough three days in advance, so that’s a really involved process. We do one bit of it at night and then that stays out overnight in a warm place. The next day it goes in the fridge and then we use that to pizza bases for two days after that. So it’s a three day process all together.
- What makes Paradise Slice different from other pizza places?
Dan: Partly the dough. You can make dough in six hours or even three and a half hours using more yeast or sugar. But if you do a slow fermentation like we do, it gives it more time to develop flavour.
Noura: Also, we really try to be a nice friendly business – we just want everyone to feel like family, like they’ve been given proper service, and that they are welcome here. We have lots of regular neighbourhood regulars and we try to remember them, always say hi, see how they’re doing. We do really like our branding, but we also don’t want it to be a brand focused business. We want it to be about the experience. It would be nice if in time the brand came to stand for a friendly, welcoming and warm service, but it’s not so much about pushing our brand at the moment. We’re trying to keep our business quite casual, but we want it to have a definite personality.
Dan: Too many places have an attitude when you go in and they feel like they’re too cool to serve you. There’s no need for that lack of greeting and involvement! Also we cook our pizzas right on the stone base, which means you get that char on the bottom of the pizza.
Noura: I guess another USP is that we do New York style pizza and we have tried to recreate it as closely as possible. And the culture of it – we are bringing the experience of New York pizza to East London so other people can experience it too. For me, a pizza shop is something that’s always there – it’s comfortable, affordable and it’s always open. I lived in New York when I was a student and was broke for many years after that so it was the only affordable hot food I could get! The pace of New York is so intense that often you are just eating on the run.
Dan: With our pizza, it’s consistent, fresh and you know it’s quality.
- What lead you to opening the shop?
Noura: I lived in New York for twelve years. I moved back two years ago and was desperate for New York style slices. By the time I left New York, I was basically a native – I ate a lot of pizza and knew exactly the taste and quality that I wanted. Dan and I took a three week trip over there before we opened the shop and just ate pizza and researched! We took notes of which crusts we liked, which sauces were best… We did a lot of research and honed down exactly what we wanted. It took us six months just to find the flour that we use – we tried like every single flour there is. Basically, the kind of flour they use in all of the good pizza shops over there isn’t available here, and American flour is quite different. Finding the right cheese was difficult as well – all the stuff that is so readily available in the US is so difficult to find here. Even the pizza boxes – finding boxes big enough for our pizzas is difficult.
I had moved back to London to do a Masters and a friend of mine was starting Kerb Street Food Market. Since I already had a background in food, she asked if I wanted to work at some of the stalls with the traders since it was really flexible and an easy way to make money when I was studying. I loved working with food, the community of vendors, feeding people and generally making people happy. Then I met Dan. He was managing the Well & Bucket on Bethnal Green Road at the time – he’s been working in pubs since he was 14 so he had tonnes of experience. It was on a whim we decided to open a pizza shop! We thought it would be so easy but it took us a year to get everything together. We borrowed money from our family and friends, and we got a startup loan from the Government through the East London Small Business Centre. That whole process took over a year, then finally we found the location after another six months. It was a much slower and more painful process than we could ever of imagined! But we got there in the end.
- When is the busiest time of the day?
Noura: Depends on the day – Friday lunch is really busy. Sunday nights are busy on Deliveroo. The rest of the days are really up for grabs. We haven’t been long enough to really get any consistency and it’s always changing.
- What do you consider the greatest achievement so far?
Noura: Opening our doors was an incredibly difficult road. It was supposed to take between three and four weeks and it took nine. Ordering all the lino, wood, fridges, oven was challenging. Also, I think we have done a nice job of fitting into the community. We were a bit nervous about moving in because it’s all curry houses and we didn’t want to alienate our neighbours, but I think we have done a good job of creating a little meeting point between the Bangladeshi community and the creative tech community of Shoreditch. All sorts of people come into our shop – all ages, all professions. We don’t have one demographic.
Dan: Our prices are really accessible – you can get 2 slices and a drink for £5. It is really expensive to live and work here so we wanted to provide something affordable to anyone. The same product anywhere else is way more expensive – some of the beers we sell for £3 are selling at £5 elsewhere. We’re making pizza to the best quality we can and selling it at the best price we can, and we’re really proud of that.
- If there was any other job you could do, what would it be?
Noura: Something that involves a lot of sleeping! [Dan interjects: “A bed tester!”] Really, I’d like to do something that involves talking – on the radio or something. I love talking.
Dan: I’m also an artist but I wouldn’t want to do it a job because I enjoy it as a passion. I’d feel a bit conflicted in the quality of what I was producing. Maybe something like a racecar driver. Or a sailor or adventure seeker like Bear Grylls…
- Does technology support your work in anyway?
Dan: We’re on Deliveroo and that is really helpful! We get a lot of orders through that.
Noura: Our oven came from the States. This is the oven that is used in the majority of New York pizza shops so it was important we had it. Social media – instagram etc… Technology definitely supports or business but we also want there to be a big element of the “hand crafted” – our food is handcrafted, our friend designed our logo and handpainted our sign outside, he hand painted the logo on the counter. Dan does drawings for all our specials.
Dan: We do have a electric cheese grater and that is probably the most helpful piece of technology we use. That’s the thing that went perfectly right when we were opening. We go through 6-8 kilos of cheese a day – that’s a lot of cheese!
- What is the one app you could not live without?
Noura: Citymapper for me! I use it constantly. How did I take buses anywhere before?!
Dan: I don’t really use my phone much at all – I could live without all apps.
- What’s the best thing about working at Paradise Slice?
Noura: Not being able to get fired…!
Dan: It’s good to come in and to know what your job is, what needs to happen, and not having a manager above us who is overworked, under pressure and just unloads every time you are at work, and makes the work atmosphere uncomfortable.
Noura: Also, having the ability to shape the personality of our business is nice. We want it to be nice for ourselves, our customers and the people that work here. Having creative control is great [Dan: “being able to make new things, try new things”], the responsibility is daunting, but it is also exciting. We were able to choose how we wanted everything from the colours of the shop to the flour used in the dough. It really gives you confidence in your decision making. You come to find out you can make good decisions… you also find out that sometimes you don’t, but that’s okay.
- Where is the after work hang out?
Noura: The Well & Bucket – anywhere Dan gets a discount!
Dan: On Saturdays we finish at 1/1:30am and Indo is open until 3am so it’s the only option really if you’re working the night shift.
Noura: Actually it’s a very complimentary way to end the day here because it’s exactly like a New York bar. It’s the only place I’ve been to here that really feels like a real American bar, and they’re not even trying to be.
- Do you have any business role models?
Noura: Maybe not a role model, but my Dad has had his own business for many years and he is really, really good at keeping it together and keeps going when he is under tonnes of pressure. He has influenced the way I’ve viewed starting this business and I speak to him a lot about handling the stress.
Dan: Noura’s dad is also my role model!
- How do you balance your personal and professional lives?
Noura: We don’t – we have zero personal lives! We are hoping that after six months it might be slightly less intense, and after about a year we will (hopefully) have more of a personal life. We keep telling ourselves it has to be like this at the beginning – but there is light at the end of the tunnel!
Dan: We both work 2 days, 2 nights and 2 double shifts a week. So we have 2 nights off a week when we can go and do something but most of the time we’ll be so tired we don’t go out or we end up staying here late. Or on our days off we’ll be in making dough, or doing paperwork. We tend to work about 70-80 hours a week!
Noura: Sometimes we do get to work in a pub, so that’s nice.
- What is the one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting out?
Dan: Go as far as possible without spending any money just in case something you haven’t thought of crops up at a very late stage. That happened to us many times, but luckily not in an extreme way. Try and invest as little financially for as long as possible.
Noura: There are a lot of things you can do for free. We took a free business workshop at the East London Small Business Centre. A lot of the research we used for our business plan (statistics and stuff) came from the startup business centre at the British Library – that’s a really good resource and completely free. So when you are first starting try to do as much researching as possible for free – there’s plenty of resources out there. Ask people for tonnes of advice – so many people want to help if you let them.
Dan: One thing that’s been really helpful for us is befriending all the people who run businesses around us. We know everyone around here and we chat to them every day – find out what’s going on with their businesses, how the area has changed over time, if everyone having a slow day, what they know about business rates. Things like that.
Paradise Slice is located at 108 Brick Ln, London E1 6RL and open Tuesday – Saturday 12pm-12am and Sunday 12pm-11pm.
For more information, visit www.paradiseslice.co.uk