Pizza Pizza Franchise Senior director of marketing Amy Silverstein
100% Canadian FranchisesCompany ProfilesLeadership ProfileNovember/December 2023Previous Issues

A People-Powered Pizza Company

Pizza Pizza’s senior director of people supports DEI and engagement-led programs

by Roma Ihnatowycz

As a senior HR executive at Pizza Pizza, Amy Silverstein is in an enviable position. Not only is she doing a job she loves, she’s also working for a franchise brand that has touched the lives of almost everyone she meets. There are few brands in Canada or abroad that can deliver this type of fringe benefit.

“It’s so special to work for a brand that everybody knows, and everybody has experienced in one way or another,” says Silverstein, senior director, people, at Pizza Pizza Limited. “It’s probably my favourite part of working for Pizza Pizza—everybody has a story and people feel they can share that with me. I get this small window into someone’s life because of where I work.”

Join Amy on December 13, 2023 for Learn & Growth Webinar “Building a Culture of Inclusion” and explore the vital importance of DEI in today’s dynamic business landscape.

For most Canadians, Pizza Pizza needs no introduction, especially in the provinces where the brand has a prominent presence, namely Ontario and Quebec, with a growing presence in B.C., Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. There are now more than 730 Pizza Pizza locations in total, and the brand continues to hold a special place in the hearts of people from coast to coast. In its home province of Ontario, people can still recite the famous 967-1111 radio jingle decades after it first launched.

Silverstein joined the venerable brand in the fall of 2021. The COVID pandemic was in full throttle, and the company was placing a stronger focus on developing its workforce. “There was definitely a shift,” says Silverstein. “Where we had been very heavily operations-focused, there was now this shift to focusing on people development and driving our business through people. The only thing that sets us apart from our competition is our people, and while there were programs and policies in place, they needed to be revisited. We needed a defined strategy to engage our teams.

One of the first things Silverstein did after joining the company was set up a Diversity and Inclusion Council, which she pulled together just one month into her new job. To get a better lay of the land, the council immediately conducted a survey to fully understand how staff felt about Pizza Pizza’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. The results could not have been more encouraging: 76 per cent of respondents rated Pizza Pizza favourable in diversity, 72 per cent favourable in equity, and 76 per cent favourable in inclusion. “And that was without the council even doing any work!” says Silverstein.

Diversity push

Still, there was room for improvement, and the council set out to develop a DEI newsletter and organize a Diversity and Inclusion Festival. The festival is held at the company’s corporate headquarters in Toronto and has now turned into an annual event, taking place every June. Food trucks are brought in representing different cultures, ethnic music is played, and a guest speaker is invited to talk on a topic relevant to DEI.

“Last year we had a speaker from Pride Toronto come in, while this year we had an indigenous elder who spoke to us about the importance of our land,” says Silverstein. “We choose food trucks based on our staff demographics; this year, there were Filipino, Italian, and Portuguese trucks. We also have activities and icebreakers—we want an event that is meaningful and helps people learn about each other and our community.”

The company’s marketing team, meanwhile, rolled out an Everyone Deserves Pizza campaign which highlighted the importance of the brand’s connection with its diverse customer base. Launched in 2022, the campaign is built around the brand’s belief that everyone has the right to pizzas that suit their tastes, price point, and location. “It was a tactical way for us to express inclusivity,” explains Silverstein. “When we say that everyone deserves pizza, you know it’s really about making sure that everybody is included, and everybody has a product they can enjoy equally.”

In acknowledgement of its strong push to strengthen diversity, Pizza Pizza received this year’s Diversity & Inclusion Champion Award from the Canadian Franchise Association. The award recognizes the company’s exceptional leadership in promoting DEI in Canada’s franchising community.

Not one to sit on its laurels, there are more DEI efforts underway. Starting next year, Pizza Pizza will beef up its training for franchisees on equitable hiring practices. Silverstein and her team will equip franchisees with the tools they’ll need to ensure everyone they hire is interviewed fairly. “It’s about making sure the interview process is done fairly and equitably, so we’re building the tools to train our franchisees and make sure they’re comfortable with that,” Silverstein says.

Another area of growing importance for the franchise is sustainability, and it’s been hard at work greening its business. “We’ve always been quietly doing this, but we’re putting a lot more attention on it right now,” says Silverstein. “It’s about how we make our products, how we bring the product in, and how it gets delivered to the customer. We’re looking at some really strong sustainability practices through that whole cycle.”

By way of example, Silverstein cites the introduction of a biodegradable pizza table—the little white piece of plastic in the box that prevents a pizza from getting squished. “We were the first pizza company to have 100 per cent biodegradable pizza tables, which [results in] an incredible decrease in waste,” she says. “We’ve also changed our boxes, using materials that are more sustainable. They don’t use as much ink which makes them more biodegradable. So, we’re making large changes.”

Talent focus

Despite her senior HR role at Pizza Pizza, Silverstein’s own story didn’t actually begin in human resources. She initially studied marketing at a local college in Toronto and started her career working at Gap as a visual merchandiser before moving up to increasingly senior managerial positions. After 10 years with the retailer, she was ready for a change and returned to college to study human resources.

For Silverstein, it was a natural progression. “I really excelled in the people development piece and that was the part of my work at the Gap that I loved the most. So, I decided to pursue a career where that could be my focus.”

After a brief stint working in recruitment for a boutique marketing firm, Silverstein joined the talent acquisition team at yet another large brand: Walmart. “I started off hiring field managers and then I moved on to support corporate roles,” she says. “They were putting new processes into place so to come right out of school and to get to be a part of building their recruitment department was an incredible experience.”

From there Silverstein moved on to a transportation company, where she helped build its Canadian HR processes from the ground up, progressing to the role of VP of talent for North America with its parent company, National Express.

By this stage in her career, Silverstein had built up a solid reputation for growing talent and developing effective HR processes. This, in turn, caught the attention of senior executives at Pizza Pizza. As Silverstein explains, “They needed someone who could come in, look at their practices and programs, and start putting strategic pieces into place would help drive engagement.”

The decision to join the pizza brand was not a difficult one for Silverstein, in large part because of its proactive, people-oriented culture. After meeting with its leadership team and feeling the warm, family vibe, Silverstein’s mind was essentially made up: “I went home and said to my husband, ‘If this is what it’s like to work with these folks, then I really want to work for Pizza Pizza.’”

The brand embodied everything Silverstein valued: inclusivity, sustainability, a great family atmosphere, and a much-loved product. Most importantly, she says, it felt like she’d come home.

“Pizza Pizza always wants to make you feel like you’re at home—whether you’re a customer, a franchisee, or part of the corporate team. That’s a consistent feeling across the company. It’s authentic, and I haven’t experienced it anywhere else.”

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