The fascinating journey of one man who is living the British dream
As the merits of immigration take centre stage in the ongoing EU referendum debate, the Times talks to one individual whose journey from a war-torn country led him to start a new life as an entrepreneur in Britain.
Edin Basic (50) is joint owner of Firezza, the chain of highly successful award-winning pizza takeaways which opened up its first store outside of London in Tunbridge Wells two years ago. It now has 17 outlets and an annual turnover of around £5million.
Forced to flee his hometown of Mostar in 1992 as civil war raged in a crumbling Yugoslavia, Mr Basic had no idea where he would end up as he abandoned Bosnia and headed to the Croatian capital of Zagreb.
He left his home with his girlfriend, asked a travel agent for two tickets to anywhere, and the next day the pair arrived in London.
“I couldn’t speak English at the time,” said Mr Basic, who was penniless and forced to live on benefits for six months before work.
“It was pretty grim, coming to somewhere you didn’t expect to end up and going through all the ups and downs. But the war was terrible.”
Determined to carve out a future in this country, Mr Basic, who had trained to be a civil engineer in Bosnia, readily accepted a job as a kitchen porter in an Italian restaurant in Paddington.
Already a reasonably good cook, he soon developed a flair for Italian dishes and became head chef at another restaurant, as well as gaining managerial and waiting skills elsewhere.
In 2001, Mr Basic met a fellow citizen of his hometown who was also making his way in the food sector and together they decided to open their own chain of restaurants.
“My business partner Adnan Medjedovic had moved here around the same time and we ended up working together, which led us to think we could go into business,” said Mr Basic.
With barely enough money to launch their first branch, which was situated in Battersea, the pair were forced to rely on the help of their friends.
But their determination to be as authentic as possible paid off, and the chain started to grow.
“We saw the market for pizza delivery was huge so there was plenty of opportunity to get a slice of it, but we wanted to be different from our rivals so we did our research for nine months.
“This led us to going all the way to Naples, where the first pizza was invented, in order to find our first chef.
“At first we had to source all the food ourselves as many authentic ingredients as possible, but now we have good suppliers.”
By opening on average one new outlet a year, Mr Basic said they had intentionally taken a cautious approach to expansion and were keen to ensure they did not outgrow themselves.
“We have raised money for growth twice and have investment from private equity, but we want to be sustainable and not a giant with glass legs which will collapse.”
Mr Basic said it was the close proximity of Tunbridge Wells to London which led it to be their first site outside of the capital.
“As there are many commuters we thought there would be some brand recognition which would help.”
Although Mr Basic never wanted to leave his home country under such terrible circumstances, he has grown to love his adopted home.
“I am really grateful for the opportunities I have been given here because even though I could have ended up somewhere else I do not think I would have been able to achieve what I have in other countries.
“People talk about the American dream, but I believe there is definitely a British dream, too. If you choose to work hard you can definitely make something of yourself.”
Who is Edin Basic and what is Firezza?
- Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1966.
- Grew up in Mostar before moving to the UK in 1992 to escape the war.
- Trained as a civil engineer.
- Founded Firezza in 2001 after working in numerous dining establishments throughout London.
- There are now 17 stores operating under the name, with the first opening in Battersea.
- Other locations include Islington, Docklands, Wandsworth, Chelsea and Notting Hill.
- The Tunbridge Wells branch was the 16th to be opened and the only one outside of London.
- The private company has a turnover of around £5million with profits over £1million.
- In 2013 corporate finance advisers Alaris Capital valued the company at £6million, with Mr Basic and his business partner Adnan Medjedovic at the time owning a 54 per cent stake.
- Firezza pizza is wood-fired, handmade and sold by the metre.
- Buffalo mozzarella is flown from Italy every week and the dough for the bases is made fresh in the restaurants every day.
- The average spend per order is around £20.