Digging Down To Hell

Hell's Pizza

Image by Brandon Koger via Flickr

No word from those not-so-terribly-nice chaps at Hell Pizza in New Zealand in response to claims they reneged on a charity donation. Despite suggesting via Twitter that a response would be forthcoming, it has all gone quiet – well, from the company at least. Articles and tweets on their tight-fistedness and the ever-present charm of director and scourge of “dorks” everywhere, Warren ‘Otis’ Powell, abound. Monday’s article here on Babble Talk remains the second most read feature on the site, after the UK mobile hacking story. The inevitable Facebook page has been spawned. If @HellPizza666 was expecting the story to simply die ………. ooops.

Still, time well spent as I could dig into the internet to learn a bit more about the company. Hell Revolution Limited are the owners of the franchise-selling outfit. Powell is the marketing guru who joined the 2 original founders and used his powers to push the brand into the limelight. They flogged the business to Burger King and trousered NZD 15 million in the process. Not bad. When Burger King struggled to make a go of it, the diabolic trio – alongside Powell are Callum Davies and Stu McMullin – bought the business back in 2009. Trebles all round ! The brand has impressive depth and a neat product set with nice tie-ins beyond pizza. Powell undoubtedly has a talent for making money as well as mischief, and is clearly a chap who considers any publicity to be good publicity. Fair play. With Powell’s pushing, the brand has been launched in Australia, India, Canada and the UK.

The problem with Hell Pizza is that it is not terribly good. The pizza bases and sauces are thin and cheap; the apparent breadth on the menu is deceptive; and collectively the offerings are expensive when compared to the competition. Simply adding a weak chilli base to a thin tomato sauce does not a unique and tasty pizza make. I have sampled Hell (!) in Queenstown, Auckland and Rotorua and each time it has been disappointing. Delivered / provided over the counter on time, hot and well presented, the bite does not live up to the promise. Far from just boycotting the brand, I have simply walked away on the grounds of, er, taste. Still, there is no denying that Hell hath its followers. The brand remains popular and, despite foot-in-mouth from Powell and his minions, the occasional loyal customer has tweeted in their defence.

So quality and taste aside, perhaps Hell is simply just a target for the New Zealand Herald, as has been suggested ? Does not seem to be the case as it is not just the Herald that is talking about Hell’s reneging on the promise of NZD10K to KidsCan. All the stories seem to have had a fair airing in other media. From the hacking of the Hell website and customer database, to the launch of an SFO investigation into the main company and Powell’s other business interests, coverage has been relatively wide. Powell has been there in almost every case with what seems to be a standard response – it is all the fault of some disgruntled former employee.

On the breach of web security and release of personal data :

Hell Pizza director Warren Powell said he suspected a former employee might be behind the security breach.

“We are honestly taking this very seriously,” he told the newspaper.

“We take customers’ personal details bloody seriously and we spend a lot of money on security.”

On being investigated by the SFO :

Powell blamed a “rogue” former employee of the company for the allegations. “We fired [him] because he was an absolute ratbag.”

Via Twitter, on the reports in the Herald about reneging on KidsCan committment :

HELL Pizza :official

HELLpizza666 : official

“Oh, and reporter is good friend of said disgruntled ex-employee. Same guy who wrote about SFO probe full of inaccuracies #heraldHELL

Funny old world. As pointed out in responses to earlier articles, voting with our feet and boycotting Hell Pizza just hits the poor franchise operators – Powell and his cronies are relatively fire-proof. Worth keeping an eye on when and where he will be popping up with a public -speaking opportunity. Such a clever, rich and thoroughly unpleasant man deserves an audience.

 

21 Comments

SimonJuly 27th, 2011 at 5:00 am

KidsCan Update
by Hell Pizza on Wednesday, 27 July 2011 at 15:18

“Hey guys, just an update for those following the story. The NZ Herald article did not mention this happened back in 2009 and it seems there might have been some confusion here. Taking a bit of time to get to the bottom of this with key staff overseas or no longer employed, but we’re determined to get it sorted. We have a long track record of charitable donations (ask Bob) so we’re looking at this very seriously. W’ve been in touch with KidsCan this week and had positive conversations. Discussions are continuing, should be able to update you in a day or two…”

SimonJuly 27th, 2011 at 5:03 am

Whoops ! Will these guys never learn ? The original Herald article clearly referred to the fact that this was in 2009. All they had to do was ‘fess up and apologise and bung the money over to KidsCan. Instead, they stall and fudge. Knobs !

SimonJuly 28th, 2011 at 2:33 am

More info available on the Hell Pizza approach via an interview with Callum Davies, reproduced on the business.govt.nz website.

“Hell Systems Ltd. owns the Hell trademarks and other intellectual property (IP). When the company had spare cash, Stu would register Hell’s IP in countries with potential markets. Master franchise rights have been sold in Australia, Ireland and Canada. Hell gets $250,000 for each master franchise licence for a country, $10,000 for each store opened, and a 1 percent royalty (we aim to keep the initial price down to ensure franchisees are not overburdened with financial obligations).”

Check out the full article here

SteveJuly 28th, 2011 at 4:15 am

You’re probably finding the more you read Simon, the more inconsistent (and shoddy) things sound:

– From that article:
“As Hell was doing well overseas, that freed up capital to buy back the NZ business.”

If you do some digging, you will see they’re not doing well overseas, most of the Australian stores have shut, as have stores in the UK and most territories have very few stores open.

– The same disgruntled ex-employee Warren hints at releasing the info about the with-holding of money from Kidscan and the SFO investigation wasn’t a disgruntled ex-employee at the time the breach of web security occurred. So that would imply there are several disgruntled ex-employees, or perhaps they’re made up? Why would someone be this disgruntled at this band of happy go lucky nice guys? As Warren himself reckons to the media, they’re “squeaky clean”.

The brand had some phenomenal growth in revenue and stores in a very short time, but at some point (perhaps coinciding with the arrival of Warren Powell) the focus went from making money from pizza to something far more sinister.

SimonJuly 28th, 2011 at 5:05 am

True enough, Steve, and thanks for commenting – that’s what piqued my interest on this story i.e. the inconsistency between Powell’s leaked email and what Hell Pizza are saying publicly. The more I dug, the more I found them to be suspect. When they do say something, it seems to contain one or more lies (e.g. their latest statement of fact on the Herald article).

Simple truth remains: this could all have just gone away if these people played it honorably but they chose to try and play off against a kids charity – and one with a good reputation, good coverage and who genuinely seem to be doing the right thing.

I have to say that I don’t see anything more sinister than basic greed and arrogance, coupled with stupidity. Not a happy combination. Although I will concede that there is probably so much more to find out about the rather nasty Warren Powell and his partners.

HannahJuly 28th, 2011 at 5:19 am

With everything I’ve read about Hells lately something does seem a bit strange there.. the whole SFO investigation, and info getting out to the press. I agree, it must either be lots of ex-employees or something else. Whilst I love their pizza, I get the impression Hells is a very unethical company with little or no regard to other people. With everything lately I think they’re going to discover not everything is going to go their way, and not everything can be swept under the carpet. For the SFO to get involved there must be something seriously wrong in the ranks, and why do the just target Warren Powell, surely the other directors will be in on it too?

SimonJuly 28th, 2011 at 5:45 am

Thanks Hannah.
From my reading, the SFO probe seems to be because there was a suggestion that Powell used a fund at Hell Pizza reserved for marketing and paid for by the franchise-holders, to finance a debauched jolly to Las Vegas to thank his mates for their support. That’s why he was taregtted according to the Stuff and Herald stories.
Having trousered what I can only assume was a significant share of the NZD $15million they got for Hell Pizza from Burger King (and for whom Powell used to be NZ Country Head), seemed a blag-too-far for him to be sticking his nose back in the trough. ….. and then he decided not to cough-up the promised donation to KidsCan. I think his email and the KidsCan fiasco are newsworthy, for sure. I have not seen much about fellow travellers Callum Davies or Stuart McMullin, but as directors of Hell Revolution Limited, they are equally culpable in my opinion.

HannahJuly 28th, 2011 at 6:06 am

Hi Simon, The way I look at it though, if you read the SFO site only investigate if it’s more than $2m worth of fraud… so it was either one hell of a good trip to Vegas.. or there’s a lot more been uncovered.. I suspect the later.. SFO only go after the big time..

I think Warren attitude to Kids Can is just wrong to, how can they get out of it saying it was just a mistake, when he deliberately calls them dorks? and once it was proven to them that the money was being used wisely, why didn’t the pay up then?

SimonJuly 28th, 2011 at 6:44 am

Wow ! $2M !! You are right – that is some party. I had not realised. Makes sense of the various comments about him and the company then.

As for his attitude – yes. Exactly. It was that quote that got me hooked on the story. Their refusal to be straight about it just started dragging it out. People are pissed off with these guys and they just don’t seem to realise it.

PizzaLoverJuly 28th, 2011 at 7:51 am

I wonder if well see any disgruntled former owners come out of teh woodwork as ive seen articles saying theyve screwed over former owners of the stores. surely some of them must hav some tales to tell about wrong doings and stuf. if he’s done more than two mil of fraud he’ll go away for a long time!!!

SimonJuly 28th, 2011 at 8:12 am

Thanks PL.

I’ve seen a fair few reports of franchisees going into liquidation. Others have commented here about UK and Aussie Hells going belly up.

My real concern is that the Kidscan story is just gonna die without Powell or his company being brought to account. Having trended high for the last 4 days, #HeraldHELL and “Hell Pizza” have dropped off the Trend list on Twitter. If Hell Pizza just sit and do nothing, it may well just fade away …….. shame

HannahJuly 28th, 2011 at 9:23 am

They certainly will be hoping it goes away. Me thinks there is something very fishy going on, and will be keen to see what the SFO have to say. I mean anyone that rips off a kids charity so heartlessly is taking it to a whole new level. But the New Zealand public have short memories, and you’re right Simon, this will quickly be forgotten.

SimonJuly 29th, 2011 at 5:02 am

Well well well ……

Whilst their response is currently offline, a keen-eyed chap on Twitter, Nathanael Boehm (@NathanaelB) managed to snapshot a copy of the Hell Pizza response to the Kidscan story on Facebook just now. Assuming the story does not change when it re-appears, looks like a complete apology for the email comment (“dorks”) plus a commitment to meet the spirit of the original NZD$10K pledge.

Check it out at http://twitpic.com/5xf6vf

SimonAugust 16th, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Latest from Hell Pizza – no news !! in response to my tweet:
triballus Simon Lewis
@HELLpizza666 Hey guys – any update on the Hell Pizza and Kidscan story ? #HeraldHELL

HELL Pizza :official
HELLpizza666 HELL Pizza :official
@triballus Nope, nothing official as yet

SimonAugust 16th, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Whoops !! My mistake : a response has now been posted:

http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=270718592942137

SimonSeptember 27th, 2011 at 10:09 pm

For fans of Warren Powell everywhere, check out this story from NZ Herald. Seems Powell talked down the price of Hell Pizza when he was negotiating the price for the buy-back. Cheeky bugger. Of course, it is also fraud ! Hope this charming chap gets what he deserves :

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10746463

PaulApril 5th, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Simon – I think it is about time you updated and corrected your blog post, don’t you?

I suggest if you did so you would find that the SFO closed their investigation into Warren Powell some months ago, with NO charges, complaints or issues to investigate further. But why would the other two Hell directors (Stu McMullin & Callum Davies) put a press release out to clarify that, when instead they can use it as leverage to oust Warren Powell from Hell Revolution & rip him off along the way (greedy, greedy) … Hmmm how about that for a fact.

I strongly suggest that making judgements and what could be construed as defamatory statements, about people based on what you read in the ‘media’ (who do not necessarily report accurate facts & information) without having validated or verified them simply makes your ‘blog story’ libelous.

Clearly your ability to ‘dig down into Hell’ barely scratched the surface, you didn’t even get through the layer of shit which is the so-called ‘facts’ reported by the media/press. And the balance of your statements are assumptions again based on your on opinion/outlook (which you are entitled to), which does not reflect the facts which you are clearly not privvy to (not that it is anyone’s business, unless of course you are a Hell shareholder or franchisee?)

If you are going to run stories on your blog in the future which you are going to make statements about a persons character, credibility (professional or otherwise) then I recommend you do so only if you can actually verify personally that your statements are accurate and correct. I am sure you would want this to be the case if you were in fact the being made the subject matter?

SimonApril 5th, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Thanks. An excellent, if possibly contradictory, reposte. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment. Might be worth you comparing the date of the McMullin and Davies press release with the dates of my original articles, though. I also made it quite clear that I was expressing opinion in any conclusions I drew – this is a Blog, after all. Still, that is a Hell of an accusation you have made against Powell’s former partners. Got any evidence to back it up ? Hmmmm. I don’t suppose your nickname is “Otis” per chance ? Do tell. Otherwise, thanks again for your contribution, “Paul”, albeit from behind an anonymising proxy.

Being KiwiFebruary 25th, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Hi mate, I read the blog, that’s good to get the bad part in public, but HELL is a NZ own brand & it’s good that it’s going well and moreover these 3 men’s will and hardwork result is wat hell is today in NZ & for the world. I’ve worked for hell pizza and I still love the working of these guys as they are true brand savvy as they claim it as 666percent NZ owned & operated. So we should plz let off the past & help to promote our own legacy and brand in different parts of the globe. A true Hell Lover………..

SimonFebruary 25th, 2013 at 6:44 pm

Fair play, BK. I certainly think if you read the articles, there is a fair amount of positive comment about the brand and its marketing. The story was about reneging on a charity contribution and what appeared to be a corporate attitude that was not very Kiwi at all. Still, if Hell Pizza can survive the charming Warren Powell and my humble but negative comments then more power to it !

The Babbling Blog » Blog ArchiveDecember 1st, 2013 at 10:06 pm

[…] chums at Hell Pizza are back in the news again, obliquely through a series of articles allegedly defaming former […]

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