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Project Pie founder on how he has jumped from Las Vegas to Dundee

Project Pie founder on how he has jumped from Las Vegas to Dundee

"We think our concept is badass and we're very excited to bring it to Europe"

With the kind of American swagger we've come to expect from stateside fast food outlets, James Markham is brimming with excitement for his latest venture.

The serial entrepreneur who equates good food with good business has already made big waves in the US with his unique pizza restaurant model.

He started Project Pie in Las Vegas in 2012 and now has dozens of outlets across America, in the Philippines and in Japan. He's also bagged a clutch of awards along the way.

So it's natural that his roving eye would eventually start to wander towards European shores, and their lucrative fast food markets.

What no one expected is that his eye would land on Dundee, and stay there.

James confirmed this week that Dundee will host the first ever European Project Pie outlet and he is even considering calling it 'Project Peh' in honour of the local lingo.

The news has gone down well in the city, mostly.

While his grand ambitions and enthused marketing speak may sound like many who have come before him, what's different about James and Project Pie is that the focus is squarely on fresh, hand-made food.

That and the fact that the customers actually make their own dinner.

How does it work?

"We make a fresh dough ball and we flatten it right in front of you," said James.

"Then you literally go down a line and pick your sauce, your cheese, your meat, your veg, oil – whatever. We build it right in front of you and no matter how many toppings you want, it's the same price.

"It also cooks in two minutes so by the time you place your order and get a drink it’s ready. Everything is hand-made including the dough and the sauce and everything is fresh. The vegetables are fresh, the sauce ingredients and the dough ingredients - all fresh.

"We’re trying to figure out the prices for the UK but in the US we charge $7.85 per pizza (equivalent to £4.63 based on current exchange rates). It’s incredible value. Most pizza places charge a set price but we include everything for one price.

"The Neapolitan pizza craze is in at the moment. Our pizza’s are very thin, light and gourmet. They don’t have to be unhealthy at all, they can be very light and still tasty."

James' restaurant vision has been dubbed the 'fast-casual' trend and the outlets are a lot more hipster than your typical pizza joint. There is a focus on art, with local work, irreverent quotes and some very unusual statement features dotted around the place.

From Las Vegas to Dundee

James revealed that as well as having friends who live in Scotland, there is some method in his choice of a European base. He is following in the footsteps of rather well known fast food chain.

Around 27 years ago, McDonald's opened its first ever Scottish outlet in the exact same street where James will launch his European empire.

A planning application was lodged this week to transform the old Santander Bank building at Reform Street into a 60-seater restaurant and hot food takeaway. If approved, the new business will create 21 new jobs in the city.

It will also be a new lease of life for the beautiful B-listed building, which has lain empty for a year and a half.

In a supporting statement with the planning application, architects Nicoll Russell Studios say: "The owners have chosen Dundee because they associate with the city’s drive of ‘changing for the future’ which includes the transformation of Reform Street.

"Dundee will benefit from the prestige of being recognised as the first Project Pie to open in the UK and, indeed, Europe. Dundee will be mentioned in all the ensuing publicity that will inevitably follow internationally."

For a city that is rapidly transforming into a major player in the global culture stakes, the move by this astute, rising star of the food industry could definitely be seen as something of an endorsement.

James said: "Just having one restaurant in the UK would be great and we think Dundee is a good starting point. We have some friends from the UK who will be doing it with us and one of them lives in Scotland so we know where we’re going with it.

"It’s also where the first McDonalds in Scotland was. We just thought that the student crowd and the young hip people that are in Dundee at the moment would really get what we're trying to do.

"I’ll be honest, we think our concept is badass and we’re very excited to bring it to the UK. We like to keep things irreverent, edgy and fun. We just want to create something cool and I think the people of Dundee are going to dig it."

Pie or Peh?

We approached the controversial topic of preh-nunciation with James and asked if he was aware of just how teckle is it to talk oary. Did he really grasp how rare it is to hear a Queen's English 'pie' on the terraces at Tannadice or Dens Park?

He laughed at this conundrum before conceding he is open to the idea of a 'Project Peh'.

"We always bring in local stuff when we can," he said.

"We try to celebrate the local flair so of course this is something that we'd consider. The other thing we’d love to do is something called a coat wall.

"We get hundreds of coats from famous people and the like and make a wall feature out of it. We’d love to do something like that in Dundee but maybe with Scottish proverbs instead. My favourite Scottish proverb is 'The devils boots don’t creak'.

"I've never been to Scotland before but I'm coming over in July to visit Dundee after I've been out seeing our Philippino restaurants so I'm excited about coming to Dundee."

If you're feeling the love for Project Pie or think the city is crying out for something else then let us know. We want to hear your thoughts so tweet us @STVDundee or give us a shout on Facebook.

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