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"Franco Manca: Less Is More In Branding" — Thomas Thorogood, Media Producer

Thomas Thorogood (00:00): Hello, I'm Thomas Thorogood. I work as the media producer at a Christian ministry called Speak Life. And this is my love letter to Franco Manca.

Sam Thorogood (00:11): And you are also my brother. I think it's worth saying.

Thomas Thorogood (00:17): And I'm the brother of the guy who hosts this podcast. And I did the music for this podcast. Basically, none of this could have happened without me.

Sam Thorogood (00:46): I agree.

(00:47): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Thomas Thorogood (01:27): I first encountered Franco Manca when a shop opened in Cambridge on a street near the market. So very centrally. And discovered it was this pizza place, heard word of mouth that the pizza from said joint was good. And so I decided to go along and then it very quickly became a tradition, uh, for me and my two friends, James Bradley and Daniel Williams Ruiz. I'm allowed to name check them because we actually met last weekend to do a Franco Manca reunion in London. But it became a tradition for us every Thursday after our maths supervision, uh, to go to Franco Manca and have lunch. And so it holds a special place in my heart from my uni days.

Sam Thorogood (02:19): And what was it about this brand that drew you in at first?

Thomas Thorogood (02:27): To be honest, the thing that drew me in first was just the pizza. Uh, I just, I just, I guzzle pizza.

Sam Thorogood (02:37): And can we, can we paint a bit of a picture? What kind of, what kind of pizza is this?

Thomas Thorogood (02:42): We're talking sourdough pizzas, stone baked, you know, done on, on a, in a pizza oven where they use one of those flat, kind of looks a bit like the oar of a boat. And you put the pizza on that and you shove it in the oven. And I know from someone who's actually built one of these in their garden, I think that it gets to a very high temperature, it's sort of almost 300 degrees or something. Uh, so we're talking a very hot oven. You put a bit of semolina on the, uh, on the, on the paddle, uh, under the pizza, which lubricates it. It's a bit like couscous actually in texture, it's powder. And that's the only way, really in this special oven to get pizza that tastes like that. You know, big bubbly crust, little bit scorched. Uh, and it's a very distinctive, it's unlike the pizza you could do at home. It's unlike buying a pizza and putting it in the oven, a frozen pizza or anything like that. And so I think it was the first time I'd ever had that sort of pizza, you know, proper pizza in a restaurant, uh, for a long time. Uh, so each one comes out different. No, two Franco Manca pizzas are the same, big bubbly crust, slightly scorched and, yeah. Delicious.

Sam Thorogood (04:00): And is part of the reason why this pizza restaurant holds such a special place in your heart because, is it because it's tied to these memories of, of university and of friendship and of conversations after lectures?

Thomas Thorogood (04:16): Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it feels like a lot of, a lot of significant things from my life happened in Franco Manca. It was, it was kind of this base that I kept, uh, revisiting at uni, no pun intended. So I, I'm a filmmaker and, uh, I kind of got into filmmaking at uni and it was always the place I chose to arrange meetings and stuff. So when I was asked to direct a film based on a poem that someone had written, I met with the poet at Franco Manca to talk about the vision for it. I met with the composer for the film that I was working with to talk about the film there. So these were people that I'd never met before, but I chose for our first meeting and planning session to be in Franco Manca. And there's something very disarming about having business conversations or creative conversations with complete strangers over food, especially over pizza because, you know, it's, it's quite awkward to eat actually.

(05:18): And so if you are struggling through that together, it takes, it's just very disarming and vulnerable eating with people, I think is a very underrated kind of icebreaker. So I highly recommend it. To me, Franco Manca always felt like a very calm place. I knew exactly what I was gonna get when I went there. And, and so I loved inviting people along because it wasn't gonna be an awkward, you know, place where I'd be unfamiliar with the system. I knew exactly what it would be like, and it's, it's just a, it became a very calm place to go to, to return to.

Sam Thorogood (05:55): Talk to me about the atmosphere in the restaurant itself. Is there music? What are the, what are the servers wearing? You know, what's the feel when you, when you step in?

Thomas Thorogood (06:05): Franco Manca have a very consistent interior design. I mean, more consistent than, than probably any other restaurant chain I can think of. So you come in, there's exposed ventilation pipes on the ceiling, mirrors on the walls, blackboards on the wall with the specials. There's a sign that says loos, ‘L O O S’, pointing to a door, which goes to the toilets, which I always found quite funny cos loo, the term loo to me feels like a very British phrase, uh, for talking about toilet. But all of them, all of them have that kind of sign that looks like it's hand painted. I don't think it is. I think it's a, something that's been printed on the wall. But it says loos. There's a wooden floor with patches that are tiled, and there's bits of broken tile of the same design used to form a mosaic on the pizza oven.

(06:57): This is genuinely, every Franco Manca has the same mosaic on the pizza oven open plan. So you see the pizza oven, you see the chefs preparing the pizzas, uh, behind the bar. So everyone's in the same room. Where the food's being prepared, where you sit, where you pay, it's all in the same place. You come to your table, there's a menu on each place on the table, which doubles as a place mat for the course of your meal, normally. It's a double-sided sheet of A3. And there are eight sourdough pizzas to choose from. Used to be six from my uni days. But they've, they've increased it to eight now. And you can get sides, you can get starters, you can get desserts, but there's no pasta dishes, no lasagna, anything like that. It's not an Italian restaurant, it's specifically a pizza oven. So they do a very small number of things, but they do them well.

(07:48): On each table, there's a recycled tin can full of cutlery. Always. It is always a recycled tin can kind of like a big soup can or something like that. Um, every Franco Manca I've been to has that. And then there's a metal holder that's containing two bottles. One is chilli oil, one's garlic oil. Every table has one of those. And then there's a big wooden pepper shaker as well. So this is what I mean about Franco Manca being a, a consistent calm space where I feel like I know exactly what I'm gonna get because I've been to Franco Mancas all over the country. Edinburgh, London, Cambridge, Bristol, Brighton, all of them are exactly like that, down to the recycled tin cans on the table containing the cutlery.

Sam Thorogood (08:39): And for you, what emotions does all of that evoke for you?

Thomas Thorogood (08:46): I think it's a homey feel. It's a homemade, handmade feel, even though it's a chain. Uh, it's quite a small chain. I think they only have 70 restaurants in the UK. They've been going since 2008, started in Brixton. But, uh, so it, it, it is a chain. Um, but it has this handmade feel and to, to a degree it is handmade. You know, you're seeing your pizza be made by hand and put in the oven by hand. But the fact that every restaurant consistently delivers this, this handmade feel, uh, and the, the interior design is rustic, and yet it's completely repeatable across all their restaurants. I think that's genius for you for, for, for each one to feel homemade and rustic. And yet it's part of a chain. I've, I've never seen that be done before. I don't think. So I, yeah, the homemade, the sense that you're coming in, it's an informal environment. This isn't posh dining. This is student kind of pretty cheap, chilled, uh, just hanging out for an afternoon. I've never been on my own I'd, I'd never get Franco Manca takeaway on my own, because for me, the experience has always been enjoying it with other people. Uh, so, so the sense of community, family, friends around the table breaking pizza, uh, that, that for me has always been at the heart of the FM experience, I'd say.

Sam Thorogood (10:19): And talk to me more about the, the visual identity. So, you know, the logo, the colours, the typography and, and the way that that is all presented in the signage, in the menus, um, on the storefront. What does that do and how does that play into this home, homely feel that's being created?

Thomas Thorogood (10:41): Right. Well, the logo is, is rubbish but that's what I love about it. In fact, I have here, someone gave me for my birthday a Franco Manca gift card. Turns out I must, I must just subconsciously talk about Franco Manca a lot because...

Sam Thorogood (11:00): Wow. So go on, hold it up. So the logo is, it's, it's just the words Franco Manca in a sort of, um, hand script, slightly childish, um, kind of blocky, uh, text as if it's been written by a, by a toddler.

Thomas Thorogood (11:18): Yeah. All, all block capitals as well.

Sam Thorogood (11:20): Capitals. And it just says Franco Manca sourdough pizza in, uh, in a, in small text. And then the, the, the, the logo mark itself is, is, I guess it's a pizza, but I mean, it could be, it's just a spiral, isn't it? It's just been drawn very quickly and it looks like it's been kind of, um, done by a. Yeah. Again, by a, by a toddler.

Thomas Thorogood (11:42): Yeah. And, and I love the kind of, is is it recycled paper, would you say? A kind of slightly, it's a slightly brown paper. I dunno, maybe...

Sam Thorogood (11:50): Pretty, uh, pretty nice, uh, recycled, uh, stock of, of paper. Yeah.

Thomas Thorogood (11:55): Yeah. And, and there's, there's something of the slapdash about all of it. That's, that's what I love about it. Uh, is, is, is this homemade, um, slightly boshed out feel that it consistently hits. Cos the point is that the quality.

Sam Thorogood (12:12): Point is, is actually, you say it's rubbish, it's actually a very good logo. But it's, it's, um, the way it's been presented, it does create this instantly. You are, you are in a, you're in a home, you're in the, the home of an Italian family who are just boshing out some delicious home cooked pizzas for you, aren't you? It doesn't feel like you're entering into a posh, um, you know, high, high culture, ‘haute cuisine’ kind of experience. It's very much you're being invite, invited into the, into the front room of a, of a family and, and, and welcomed to, to, to share around the table. And the logo is doing all of that. The, the, the typography is, is, is that, so in a sense it's incredibly successful.

Thomas Thorogood (12:54): I mean, yeah, I mean it, it, I mean it's rubbish in the best sense of the word. Yeah. Um, yeah. It's, it's family life and it's, you know, you are invited in and it feels like you're being invited into someone's home. And yes, there may be some kids playing around at, uh, you know, there's, it's, it's a bit messy. Um, but hey, it's family, it's real, it's raw, and we have good pizza. That kind of is made from the heart that, that for me has always been the feel of it. And I think you're absolutely right that the logo does, does help present that. I mean, it looks like something that someone has scribbled on a napkin with a biro. Which again, is, is is what I love about it. Yeah.

Sam Thorogood (13:38): And interesting that there's no, um, there's no glossy photos of the, uh, of the pizza in, in this particular, um, gift card. It's very much like you say someone's, someone's done the gift card for you on a, on a napkin and, and handed it to you. And, um, there's a simplicity. There's a real kind of, almost like a poverty to their, to their brand. It's not, it's not, it's not glossy, it's not prestige. It's, it's quite rough and ready.

Thomas Thorogood (14:06): Just looking at the gift card itself. It has a, again, what looks like a very hand drawn image of a man standing on a plane. The plane has a pizza behind the propeller. No explanation whatsoever. But I, I kind of love that. It just, it, it, it, it's just the sort of thing, the sort of quirky thing that you might see in a, a Quentin Blake illustration in a children's book. It doesn't need an explanation. Um, it just is, it's, it's, it's just, it's just something fun and engaging to just draw you in. Um, yeah.

Sam Thorogood (14:46): What has Franco Manca done that has surprised you?

Thomas Thorogood (14:52): I was surprised to hear that they're now selling their pizzas in supermarkets. So I, I knew you, you can get Pizza Express pizzas in supermarkets now that, that doesn't, that isn't a surprise to me cos they're, they're a huge brand. I mean, I think they have almost 500, uh, restaurants in the UK so I was surprised to hear that Franco Manca was doing it. They only have 70 pizzerias in the UK as I was saying, which feels reasonably small to me. And I don't think I would go for them personally, the supermarket ones, because as I say, for me, Franco Manca has always been about enjoying it with friends in the restaurant. For me, actually going to the restaurant is, is part of the experience. Um, but you know, all power to them in that. I mean, it's delicious pizza and they're providing more means to obtain it. But I was surprised to hear about that. I think mum actually got one from a supermarket recently. Yeah. And I took her to Franco Manca in Brighton when she visited. So, um, a lot of, a lot of, when people meet up with me, it, it defaults to Franco Manca. I'm slightly ashamed to say, but they don't seem to mind. So I keep dragging them along.

Sam Thorogood (16:12): Have there been any times when it's been difficult to love the brand?

Thomas Thorogood (16:16): Once, it did take two hours for the pizza to come.

Sam Thorogood (16:20): Two hours?

Thomas Thorogood (16:21): Yes. Which, which was abnormal. Uh, I think that was, it hadn't been open for long in Cambridge. And we, we'd gone for one of our post-supervision pizzas and yeah. That, that isn't great, is it? And other people in the the room who had ordered after us were getting their pizza before us. So we did, we did just, well, my friend is, is less reserved than I am. And so he, he was very upfront about this and he said, I, I don't think this is very good. And yeah, very kindly they did, uh, refund it, I believe or certainly knock the price down a bit. So that wasn't great. But I, yeah, I think they got a little bit swamped. I, it struck me that they were still trying to find their feet and, and when I've been recently in almost universally in their other restaurants, the service has actually been very good. I think. So, yeah, I think it's all part of just the logistical challenge of starting up a, a restaurant chain, especially because there were times when it gets, it got very busy, the Cambridge one, uh, very central location. People love it. So there'd be times when absolutely crowded and there's only one pizza oven. So that, that was when it was hard to like it. But when the pizza arrived, all was, all was forgotten and forgiven. So there we go.

Sam Thorogood (17:45): And how would you describe this brand to someone who's never heard of them before? So say you are wanting to invite a friend along to come to, to Franco Manca, but they, they don't really know what it is. What is this weird word? What, what is Franco Manca, you know, tell me more. How would you, how would you sell it to them?

Thomas Thorogood (18:03): I think Franco Manca means ‘Franco is missing’ in Italian. Um, no explanation for that whatsoever given within the restaurant or, but again, I kind of love it. It's, it's a quirky name. It's not called, it doesn't have pizza in the title. It's almost counterintuitively more memorable because it's just something completely that feels like it's completely unrelated. I imagine it's to do with the founder in some way. But, um, yeah, it's rustic, affordable sourdough pizza, does what it says on the tin, Mediterranean feel. Someone pointed this out to me the other day. There's a very big difference between American style pizza and Mediterranean or Italian style pizza. I think, you know, Franco Manca is not the place to go if you are a fan of pizzas with stuffed crust, barbecue sauce, thick bases, that's more an American style, Domino style pizza. Some people like that. I'm personally more a fan of the very simple just tomato, cheese, uh, mozzarella, just tomato and mozzarella, and then maybe one topping in addition to that.

(19:15): But less is more, I think in a way. And that's what Franco Manca is. I always go for exactly the same order. I go from the number six pizza, organic tomato cured chorizo and British mozzarella, small bottle of organic lemonade, which they make themselves, I believe. So it comes in a little glass bottle with a stopper and it has little brown grains floating in it. I think that's nutmeg that they use to, to season it. But what, but the reason I mentioned that is that's what the pizzas are like in the menu. Pretty much all of them can be summed up with less than five ingredients. So it's, it's simple, rustic, Mediterranean style pizza, not American pizza.

Sam Thorogood (19:56): Are the pizzas. So they're numbered. Each pizza has a, has a number. Do they have a name as well or is it just, I'm gonna get the number five?

Thomas Thorogood (20:03): Yeah, it's just the number. So yeah, the menu will say something like six: organic tomato, cured chorizo and British mozzarella. So again, I kind of like that, just the, the simplicity of a number six, please.

Sam Thorogood (20:18): How would you summarise your journey with Franco Manca?

Thomas Thorogood (20:22): I would say that Franco Manca is, is a, a homely base that I keep returning to. I inescapably keep returning to, even though I've moved to a different part of the country now, I just keep gravitating back to it with those two friends that I, I mentioned we met up to have a reunion day. It could only have been in Franco Manca, it couldn't have been any anywhere else. So it's this homely base. It reminds me of my student days. So I always get a bit of a flood of nostalgia, which I think can be a dangerous thing. You don't wanna cling to the past. But I think food is so effective at conjuring memories and, and revisiting moments of your life that you're thankful for. And I just think how many moments I've enjoyed with people over Franco Manca pizza. So it, it holds a special place in my heart.

(21:11): And I think, I think, I think always will, in a way. Part of the reason this brand in particular has got under my skin is that it doesn't feel corporate. It doesn't feel cynical and corporate and, and my, which might be part of the genius of how they make themselves look homemade and rustic. Maybe this is all premeditated, but maybe, maybe not, uh, entirely. I think that might be a bit of, a bit of a, a straw man should we say. But, uh, I, yeah, I think it doesn't feel corporate and so maybe that's why I, I have no difficulty, uh, being effusive about it.

Sam Thorogood (21:52): Thomas, tell me more about you. Who are you and, um, where, where people can connect with what you are, what you're doing?

Thomas Thorogood (22:01): Yeah, so my name's Thomas. Um, I'm the media producer at a, a Christian ministry called Speak Life. So I do, uh, videos and podcasts. You can check out our work at, at And as part of that, I do a bit of film composing as well. I do that in my free time as well for for short films. So, um, you can check out my work at

Sam Thorogood (22:29): Fantastic. Well, finally, I would love to hear your love letter to Franco Manca.

Thomas Thorogood (22:35): Dear Franco Manca, thank you for providing a place for me to enjoy time with my friends over good pizza. For me to think about creative projects with people I'd met for the first time. And thank you for always being there, no matter where I've lived in the country with your delicious pizza. From Thomas.

Sam Thorogood (23:07): Well, Thomas Thorogood, thank you very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Thomas Thorogood (23:14): Thank you.

Sam Thorogood (23:16): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more at Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design