WHEN Paul Ashurst opened the first Domino’s Pizza takeaway in south Essex 25 years ago, he had big ambitions.

Then 24 and bursting with pizza knowledge from working at rival Pizza Hut, Paul was the youngest franchisee the global chain had ever recruited.

Having sold his Domino’s empire, Paul now says the change in the food delivery market has been “exponential”.

Despite coming from Cambridge, Paul jumped at the chance to take on the franchise in Wickford in 1999, which offered him exclusivity when it came to opening branches in nearby Basildon and Billericay.

Echo: Family - Paul's loved ones supported his first venture in WickfordFamily - Paul's loved ones supported his first venture in Wickford (Image: Paul Ashurst)

At the time he started out, Domino’s was only known in big cities like London and had just broken into Essex with stores in Colchester and Chelmsford.

“The first store cost £185,000,” he explains. “Domino’s was big in London. It was sponsoring The Simpsons but it wasn’t really well known outside of London.

“We raised £65,000 by selling shares. Ten of us, my friends and family, invested.

“We got a bank loan which was guaranteed against my parents’ house, we leased the equipment and put everything we had into the Wickford store with the goal of having ten stores in ten years.”

Another store followed a year later in Braintree, Paul acquired the Chelmsford site, and then it “snowballed” with Domino’s popping up in every corner of Essex. Paul eventually owned 13 takeaways in Essex alone and another in nearby Bishop's Stortford.

As the internet grew in prominence, the business was forced to adapt. Online orders were once handed down to the store by fax, a far cry from the slick operation running at takeaways up and down the country today.

When he sold up in 2016, the pizza mogul, who now lives near Dunmow, ran every Domino’s in Essex except Colchester, employed 525 staff, and sold 1.25million pizzas a year.

Echo: Publicity - Paul and his teams always had a lot of funPublicity - Paul and his teams always had a lot of fun (Image: Paul Ashurst)


“I’m an Essex boy now and I got to know what the people of Essex wanted,” he says.

“Domino’s didn’t have an all-meat pizza on the menu but we invented one as the Essex man loves meat.”

Now 49, Paul says engaging with his workforce and the communities they served was a lot of fun.

He says: “I loved the success and what we created but also the pride I would have in how much we could make a difference to people’s lives, giving them decent jobs, paying decent wages and treating people well. 

“I used to love throwing a big annual staff party which got bigger every year because we were adding more and more stores. In 2021, at the height of Towie, we did The Only Way is Domino’s at Orsett Hall. I spent £65,000 on it, it was all glitz and glamour.”

These days, Paul is focused on other business opportunities, hopes to invest in a football club, and is a patron of the British Film Institute.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with 300 bibles and a load of church organs,” he jokes. “Bibles are slow sellers but they go out of date a lot slower than a Mighty Meaty.”