Eric André was a genuine entrepreneur. Born en Neully sur Seine Paris and educated in a famous school of Nantes, he decided from an early age to go into the hospitality business. He came out of school with top marks in cooking and hospitality and joined a pastry shop as an apprentice aged fourteen. “I was paid next to nothing but I learned a lot about baking and making the best cakes of Neully. When I walked away it was to join a top of the range hotel in Paris and I was an expert baker, so it was worth it”.
Eric then joined Pizza Hut in the UK and never looked back. He moved on to several large companies which had an international presence in the fast food and casual dinning sectors. His last position as a high ranking executive was with The Capricorn Group which owned, amongst other companies, The Pizza Express Group. Eric was asked to expand the brand into Europe and so he did. He opened in France under the ‘Pizza Marzano’ brand, which he created one day whilst shaving in the early morning before going to the office.
“It was a rocketing success.”
“I could not use the Pizza Express name in Spain or France because someone had registered that name before us and we had to work our way around that. Out of the blue I came up with the idea of San Marzano, which is the name of the famous very tasty Italian tomatoes used for pizza and pasta sauces. I shortened it to Pizza Marzano and registered the name immediately to avoid further issues. It was a rocketing success.”
Eric later became chairman of Pizza Marzano Europe. At that stage, he started and expanded the market in France with two Pizza Express outlets in Paris; one in Avenue Montparnasse and another in Place de L’Opera. They made profits from day one. In addition, he opened a third outlet in la Place du Capitol in Toulousse. This outlet was arguably the most profitable in Europe. He also arranged for the opening of the Pizza Express franchise outlet in Ocean Village Gibraltar which is happily very much up and running.
His reply was simple: “Study your product.”
There is no doubt Eric Andre had a razor sharp brain for the business. As far as the hospitality sector is concerned, Eric was an expert’s expert. There was little this man did not know in the business and yet he was a learner until his last days. Years later he purchased Pasta Nostra in Spain; a small chain of eight outlets in Zaragoza and Madrid. He bought them at the right price and expanded them quickly to over a dozen restaurants in Spain. He had plans to expand the brand into the UK where the market is a lot more active as casual dining is part of the English culture. “We shall move into the UK market once we get the rest of Europe sorted.”
Eric left the company in 2010 to set up business on his own. I introduced him to Georges Carpentier and they created four different brands of restaurants to be launched in Spain and Portugal.
“George and I have put together a great new project of four different brands of restaurants. There is an American/Mexican concept. Then there is An Italian/Argentinian idea. And in addition there is a Peruvian restaurant project. And George came up with the fourth, which was a top-of-the-range Gourmet Burger concept.” The tremendous recession or possibly depression which hit Spain and Portugal from 2008 onwards made the development of this magnificent project unfeasible.
You basically need to adapt.
“It was the wrong timing, so we decided to pull the plug to move out and went to Africa instead. Firstly to Nigeria where business was good but life was difficult because of continuous security issues.” Eric left Nigeria not before placing a very reliable young executive form France to run things for him. “We needed younger staff and a clever lad to run the show in Nigeria. And Pierre is just the perfect match.”
Eric moved to Kenya and really never looked back. He was highly successful and opened Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery throughout Kenya. When asked in an interview from a Kenya newspaper which was the secret of his success he simply replied: “I think I am quite good with people. I can be firm, certainly, but let people grow. I normally don’t tell them what to do. Rather I ask them what they think they should do. I worked and lived in many parts of the world which made me more tolerant and open minded.”
In the same interview he was asked to give some advice to young aspiring entrepreneurs. His reply was simple: “Study your product. Travelling to London, Paris or New York and picking up a good idea can look appealing and even sexy. But it really does not work like that. What sells in the UK may not sell in Portugal. And something highly desirable in India may not work in Kenya. And the other way around. Study your market. Just to give you a hint when the great Brand of lollipops Chupa Chups was launched in Mexico they had to put hot chilli inside them because in Mexico much as in India, they are hot spice lovers. You basically need to adapt.”
Georges Carpentier was due to join Eric Andre in Kenya in 2016 with a view to starting together some form of new project in Africa. Sadly Eric Andre died prematurely and young due to a devastating disease. His projects and achievements are there for all to learn from and enjoy.