WHAT do Dolly Parton, Bruce Willis, Drew Barrymore, Tom Kitchen, Philip Schofield, Florence Pugh, and Louise Redknapp all have in common? Not only do they all love pizza, but they are just some of the celebrities who own a Ooni pizza oven.

Based in Broxburn, West Lothian, Ooni has experienced exponential growth since launching in 2012, but sales truly took off last year when the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Founded by husband and wife duo Kristian Tapaninaho and Darina Garland, the company has won numerous industry awards including being named ‘one to watch’ at the UK EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 virtual awards last month.

“Our future goal is to be recognised as the number one pizza brand in the world,” Mrs Garland explains.

“To be a brand that’s bringing joy to people’s back gardens – to help the world make great pizza. Our key focus is on pizza mastery and helping people improve their own pizza experience.”

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Even before coronavirus and lockdown, the company was is high demand selling B2B and B2C. As a result, one of the main challenges facing Ooni at present is keeping up with supply and demand as they rapidly scale up.

Mrs Garland admits: “We’ve been out of stock a lot last year – people have been pre-ordering, which is encouraging because it means they are prepared to wait several weeks to get their products. “The buzz and word of mouth we think is probably responsible for about 60-70% of our sales, which is pretty amazing.”

Incredibly, Ooni has been in profit since its humble beginnings in 2012. Before launching the business, Mr Tapaninaho and Mrs Garland, both now 39, had established their own education company specialising in creative education in schools.

“Kristian got really into making pizza as a hobby in our own domestic oven,” Darina continues.

“He was frustrated that the pizzas were good but not great. We worked out quickly that it was down to not having a really high temperature, something that domestic ovens just really aren’t capable of.

“We had a tiny back garden in London and we knew we didn’t want a traditional woodburning oven, mainly because of the cost – they started at around £1,500 and were huge installations. Kristian wanted to buy a small oven to up his pizza game, and just found out there wasn’t one. He’s from Finland, so he’s a really practical guy, and he decided to make one.”

Mrs Garland describes a ‘wow’ moment after sampling pizza from the first Ooni prototype oven. The couple then launched their first Ooni oven project on Kickstarter in November 2012 with the aim to find out if there was any appetite for their concept.

With a modest funding goal of £7,500, the duo quickly swept past their target and in 30 days managed to raise £30,000.

But unable to secure a UK manufacturer, the first Ooni ovens were produced in Finland, and the pair began selling directly to customers on the back of the Kickstarter campaign.

“We kept selling on an e-commerce way, but Selfridges got in touch and became our first retailer, which for credibility was amazing,” says Mrs Garland.

With over five models (some run on gas, some wood, and some are multi-fuel), the compact pizza ovens heat up to 500°C in 20 minutes or less, and cook pizzas in just 60 seconds, costing a fraction of the price of traditional wood-fired ovens.

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In 2015, the couple moved from London to Scotland, where the company and staff have continued to grow significantly.

Now with around 95 employees Mrs Garland emphasises a strong passion for culture within the workplace. She says, “I’m obsessed by the culture of Ooni. It’s been absolutely at the front and centre of how we’ve designed the product.”

To thank employees for their efforts during this challenging time, Ooni’s executives recently gave each team member £5,000 and levelled up the Ooni entry salary to £25,000.

Alongside trying to satisfy the sharp rise in orders, Mrs Garland stresses that team morale, international logistics and customer service are areas she is keen to preserve to a consistently high standard.

“The incoming interest has gone up exponentially, and we’re already pretty busy so I think there is probably about 30 people in our customer experience team which has gone up almost 10 times in the last year,” says the successful entrepreneur. “Hiring people quickly and remotely has been a challenge.”

Mrs Garland is confident business growth will continue, describing the love of good pizza as ‘universal’.

She says: “We don’t think this is a flash in the pan, we’ve just accelerated our growth a bit more quickly so we’re really trying to be ambitious about what we can expect during the next few years.”

ooni.com