How an acclaimed jazz musician became a pizzeria owner by accident thanks to Covid-19

Tim Thornton started off by making pizzas for his neighbours to fundraise for the NHS, now he's running a pizzeria

Zio Tim's pizzeria
Tim Thornton at his new part-time pizzeria outside Vindinista in Acton, London Credit: Gregory Luscombe

Before the pandemic, jazz bassist Tim Thornton was riding high. His music career had seen him tour the world, playing Glastonbury, performing regularly at London jazz bar Ronnie Scott’s, and even running his own pop-up restaurant / jazz bar in the capital. He was on the cusp of releasing a third album.

Then lockdown happened, live music performances were banned, and work appeared to be drying up. In response, Thornton fired up the little portable pizza oven in his garden in Acton, London.

“I decided to run a charity pop-up pizzeria from my driveway,” he explains. “This was at the end of April and beginning of May, when everybody was very locked down. I was making pizzas and giving them away, simply asking in return that people donated £5 per pizza to the NHS charities.”

The pop-up was intended to be a one-off, but the punters kept coming, and Thornton was persuaded to repeat it the following week. He started to run it two days a week, and eventually was introduced to the proprietors of the local wine shop, Vindinista.

“They had a kitchen out the back, which they weren’t really using, so they said, ‘why don’t you come and operate from here?’,” says Thornton, who has made roughly 1,500 pizzas since he started this endeavour. “So now I’m doing four days a week. I’ve kind of ended up running a pizzeria without really meaning to.”

Since he started, Tim has experimented with all kinds of different pizzas from old favourites to new creations Credit: David Robson

Pizza has always been something of a passion for Thornton. He got his pizza oven when his wife was on holiday for two weeks, and he decided to 
use the time to create the perfect 
dough recipe.

“I ended up having pizza for lunch every day, tweaking the dough,” he explains, adding that he never got tired of it. “I guess it’s one of the few ‘takeaway’ foods you can’t really do easily at home; the pizza oven gets up to 500 degrees and it’s just impossible to recreate in a conventional oven, no matter how hard you try.”

While giving his creations away for free in return for donations is no longer financially viable, Thornton is proud of the funds – more than £1,000 in total – he raised to support key workers. His makeshift shop has been dubbed Zio Tim’s (in honour of a favourite local pizzeria of his wife’s family in Puglia called Zio Tom’s), and it now operates from Wednesday to Saturday at Vindinista in Churchfield Road, Acton.

What does the future hold for this musician turned culinary maestro? Thornton is open to the idea of becoming pizzeria owner full-time.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. It’s something that I would love to do,” he admits. “I am also very unsure as to the future of the live music industry, certainly over the next couple of years. I’ve been contacted recently by a place to see if I’d be interested in taking over that and turning it into a pizzeria. If all the factors involved line up, I just might.”

For more information go to: ziotimspizzeria.com​