Moving from the competitive world of corporate sales into opening his own pizza restaurant might faze some, but for Tiger Wood Fire Pizza's Tadhg Leonard it was a welcome career change and an inevitable progression. "Always in the back of my mind I'd wanted to own my own business and y'know, I've always loved food. So it was just an epiphany moment, well I love pizzas!" he explains as we visit his charming, bustling pizza joint in the Dublin foodie haven of Rathmines.
In just over half a year, Tiger has carved out a niche for itself as one of Dublin's best pizza restaurants and earlier this summer picked up a nomination as Dublin's Best Takeaway at the 98FM public-voted Best of Dublin awards.
The first things you notice inside are the eye-catching details located all around; the impressive graffiti wall updated each month by local street artists, ringing endorsements from online publications splayed across the wall like digital soundbytes and the serious claim of being the "Home of Sourdough". It's not a statement that Tadhg takes lightly.
"Taste is the most important thing"
"What sets Tiger apart is that we take our sourdough quite seriously and we take our dedication to taste and quality extremely seriously. It's about making sure the customer gets that quality every single time, no matter what happens in the kitchen and no matter how much pressure we're under. Taste is the most important thing."
While this late career diversion may seem surprising, Tadhg's love of Italian pizza was born from years spent visiting Italy and picking up on tips of local masters. "Everywhere you go they're a bit cagey about talking to you because they think you're going to go off and steal their recipes and replicate what they do, so they'll tell you little different things about what's the most important. In certain areas it would be the oven that they working with or the chef's techniques but what I really noticed that stood out was the quality of the ingredients that people were using."
"I always say the real test of a good pizza is a simple margarita"
It's this dedication to the craft of making irresistibly perfect pizza that has developed Tiger's devout following since its launch last October. "The strength of this company lives or dies by the quality of the pizza that we send out that door every single time and it's upto us to get us to a premium level and then maintain that. Because customers expect a really good pizza and we need to be able to deliver that every single time."
When talk turns to what makes Tiger pizza so special, Tadhg gets visibly excited and his passion shows. "There's a few key elements that you can't get away with scrimping on and it's the big three: firstly the base is a huge part of it. You've got to make your bread fresh and it's got to taste as best as it can. So it's how you make that, first of all we use our sourdough starter and we only use the best Italian OO flour.
The second is the sauce, we use a really simple sauce and for me it's about the sauce as a vehicle, the best quality wholesome tomatoes that you can get, and then of course the cheeses. We use a Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese, so really high quality cheese. That's why I always say the real test of a good pizza is a simple margarita."
"Living in the moment isn't always the glory of good reviews but it all makes it worthwhile"
Finally, talk turns to the changing appetites of Dublin's pizza-eating customers and a perceptible shift which Tadhg handsomely acknowledges. "The value for the customer isn't now how much you can get for a tenner, it's good wholesome decent quality that they can feel good about. Now is the time for food in Ireland, there's diversity of appetites happening and people's tastes are being developed much more."
So with much progress achieved since opening, what's next for Tadhg and Tiger? "For us right now, it's all about building and building our customer base, getting our name out there and getting people to try us. It's having a company I can be proud to put my name on and say this is Tiger Pizza and we are producing one of Dublin's best pizzas."
What shines through from spending just an hour with Tadhg is the undeniable passion he has for each aspect of this restaurant and the serious appreciation he feels for the customer experience. While he accepts it hasn't been an easy route to success, the hard work pays off each time he receives that great feedback. "Living in the moment isn't always the glory of good reviews but it all makes it worthwhile."