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How a Sydney school boy who started work at Pizza Hut aged 14 became a store owner at just 18

A boy who had never heard of Pizza Hut when he came to Australia as a seven-year-old has become the fast food giant’s youngest ever store owner at 18.

Dilan Elia runs the Pizza Hut restaurant at Marsden Park in Sydney’s north-west and is planning to take over a second outlet by the end of the year. 

The industrious teenager got a job at his local Pizza Hut shortly after he turned 14 and worked there up to 35 hours a week while still at school.

‘Five years later I am still here and have never worked anywhere else,’ he said.

Today Dilan has 17 staff – including several mates who had struggled to find employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic – working for him. 

He is humbled to be the youngest franchisee Pizza Hut has had in its global system and credits his success to determination and a supportive family.

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Dilan Elia had never heard of Pizza Hut when he came to Australia without speaking English as a seven-year-old. He began working for the chain aged 14 and became the fast food giant's youngest ever store owner at 18. He is pictured at his Marsden park store in north-west Sydney

Dilan Elia had never heard of Pizza Hut when he came to Australia without speaking English as a seven-year-old. He began working for the chain aged 14 and became the fast food giant’s youngest ever store owner at 18. He is pictured at his Marsden park store in north-west Sydney

Shortly before his fourteenth birthday Dilan applied for a job at the Greenfield Park outlet after spotting an opportunity on the Pizza Hut website careers page. He began as a pizza maker, then did shifts washing dishes. He is pictured far left at the Greenfield Park store aged 16

Shortly before his fourteenth birthday Dilan applied for a job at the Greenfield Park outlet after spotting an opportunity on the Pizza Hut website careers page. He began as a pizza maker, then did shifts washing dishes. He is pictured far left at the Greenfield Park store aged 16

Shortly before his fourteenth birthday Dilan applied for a job at the Greenfield Park outlet after spotting an opportunity on the Pizza Hut website careers page. He began as a pizza maker, then did shifts washing dishes. He is pictured far left at the Greenfield Park store aged 16

Dilan ensures everything is clean ahead of opening his restaurant, checks stock and arranges ordering. He makes dough, cooks pizzas and serves customers - 'ensuring they leave with a smile'

Dilan ensures everything is clean ahead of opening his restaurant, checks stock and arranges ordering. He makes dough, cooks pizzas and serves customers - 'ensuring they leave with a smile'

Dilan ensures everything is clean ahead of opening his restaurant, checks stock and arranges ordering. He makes dough, cooks pizzas and serves customers – ‘ensuring they leave with a smile’

When not running the business Dilan is at home with his parents. He has three older siblings – two brothers and a sister – and tries to treat Tuesdays and Sundays as days of rest. 

Dilan’s early childhood was spent in Batnaya, an Assyrian town in northern Iraq near Mosul, and his family, who are Chaldean Catholics, emigrated to Australia in 2008. He did not speak English.

Settling in Sydney’s west, Dilan went to Bossley Park Primary School and Bossley Park High School. He finished Year 12 at the end of last year.

Dilan’s father Salim Tobia, 77, was an English teacher in Iraq then an interpreter once the family moved to Australia. Mother Habeba Gorgis, 60, now helps out at the Marsden Park store. 

Dilan was born in Iraq and came to Australia aged seven. He is pictured as a four-year-old with his mother Habeba Gorgis

Dilan was born in Iraq and came to Australia aged seven. He is pictured as a four-year-old with his mother Habeba Gorgis

Dilan was born in Iraq and came to Australia aged seven. He is pictured as a four-year-old with his mother Habeba Gorgis

As a child Dilan enjoyed soccer and video games and played cricket in the Primary School Sport Association competition.

At school his favourite subjects were software design and development, and hospitality. ‘Of course, making pizzas was a big hobby of mine as well,’ he said.

‘As expected, my family and I weren’t familiar with Pizza Hut until we arrived in Australia. 

‘When I was about eight years old, I started eating pizza and I remember I used to go to my local Pizza Hut to watch the boys making the pizza.

‘It was really entertaining and fun to watch as a kid.’ 

The family ordered pick-up pizzas from the Greenfield Park store every week. Pepperoni was Dilan’s topping of choice. 

Shortly before his fourteenth birthday Dilan applied for a job at the Greenfield Park outlet after spotting an opportunity on the Pizza Hut website careers page.

Dilan’s father Salim Tobia, 77, was an English teacher then an interpreter. Mother Habeba Gorgis, 60, now helps out at the Marsden Park store. Mother, father and son are pictured

The Marsden Park store goes through 410 kilograms of dough a week and 250 kilograms of that is used between Friday and Sunday. Dilan's personal favourite pizza is a BBQ Meat Lovers with aioli drizzled on top

The Marsden Park store goes through 410 kilograms of dough a week and 250 kilograms of that is used between Friday and Sunday. Dilan's personal favourite pizza is a BBQ Meat Lovers with aioli drizzled on top

The Marsden Park store goes through 410 kilograms of dough a week and 250 kilograms of that is used between Friday and Sunday. Dilan’s personal favourite pizza is a BBQ Meat Lovers with aioli drizzled on top

Dilan began as a pizza maker, then did shifts washing dishes before moving into customer service.  

‘Having worked in a number of positions I quickly became an all-rounder which led me to securing a manager role at the age of 18,’ he said.

Dilan is pictured aged 16 working at the  Greenfield Park Pizza Hut store

Dilan is pictured aged 16 working at the  Greenfield Park Pizza Hut store

Dilan is pictured aged 16 working at the  Greenfield Park Pizza Hut store

Being manager was still not enough for the ambitious young man – he wanted to own a store.  ‘I thought of the idea when I was about 16 years old,’ he said.

‘In the beginning, my family supported me financially to get the store up and running. 

‘However, one of my main motivators for becoming a franchisee was so that I could support my family financially in the long run. 

‘My dad had bypass surgery two years ago, which was a really tough time for me. 

‘I was overthinking a lot and wanted to make sure that someone would be able to take care of the family if he had to stop working.’

Dilan, who turned 19 in June, is responsible for a team of employees aged 15 to 23 and he works 30 to 50 hours each week. 

‘Leadership is my biggest responsibility,’ he said. ‘My main focus is on creating a friendly environment for everyone in the workplace. 

‘My team treats each other as family instead of employees which creates a positive atmosphere, and so ensuring that it stays this way is really important to me.’

The Marsden Park store goes through 410 kilograms of dough a week and 250 kilograms of that is used between Friday and Sunday. 

Dilan’s personal favourite pizza is a BBQ Meat Lovers with aioli drizzled on top. As for the controversial issue of whether pineapple is an acceptable topping, Dilan’s position is clear.

‘Pineapple definitely belongs on pizza, but it has to be the right pizza.’

Today Dilan employs 17 staff at the Marsden Park Pizza Hut in north-west Sydney - including several mates who had struggled to find employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic

Today Dilan employs 17 staff at the Marsden Park Pizza Hut in north-west Sydney - including several mates who had struggled to find employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic

Today Dilan employs 17 staff at the Marsden Park Pizza Hut in north-west Sydney – including several mates who had struggled to find employment because of the COVID-19 pandemic

A typical day for Dilan starts with him rising at 8am, having breakfast with his family, and heading to the store about 10am. 

He ensures everything is clean ahead of opening, checks stock and arranges ordering, makes dough, cooks pizzas and serves customers – ‘ensuring they leave with a smile’.

Dilan’s mother gets to watch her son work. ‘My mum likes to help out and clean the store as she doesn’t understand English and isn’t able to serve customers,’ he said.

‘I let her do the basic stuff from time to time but as she gets older I don’t want her working too much.’

Dilan’s working day finishes about 7pm when he heads home for a shower and to spend as much time with his family as he can. 

'When I was about eight years old, I started eating pizza and I remember I used to go to my local Pizza Hut to watch the boys making the pizza,’ he says. 'It was really entertaining and fun to watch as a kid'

'When I was about eight years old, I started eating pizza and I remember I used to go to my local Pizza Hut to watch the boys making the pizza,’ he says. 'It was really entertaining and fun to watch as a kid'

‘When I was about eight years old, I started eating pizza and I remember I used to go to my local Pizza Hut to watch the boys making the pizza,’ he says. ‘It was really entertaining and fun to watch as a kid’

Running a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic was stressful for the first couple of months but Dilan got through those challenges with the help of Pizza Hut, his friends and family.  

‘Throughout the pandemic it’s been really exciting,’ he said. ‘We actually got a lot busier and it was a really great opportunity to help evolve the business.’

Dilan said the introduction of contact-less delivery and pick-up had helped maintain hygiene standards and the quality of food.

The economic and social cost of coronavirus had also become clear to Dilan, who has recently hired several friends to work in his store.

‘A few of my mates struggled to find jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic,’ he said.  ‘Now I’ve got about five of my friends working with me which I am happy with.

‘Being a busy man I enjoy having my friends work for me, as it also means I get to share the good times with them.’

Dilan said the support of his family was vital. ‘It is the most important thing of all, you need the support and motivation from family throughout the good and bad days. 

‘Pizza Hut of course helped me out massively however I’d say my parents have been my main influences.’ 

Dilan took over the Marsden Park store on January 22 and already has plans to own more franchises. 

‘I’m expecting to have another one by the end of this year,’ he said. ‘I’ve also planned further ahead to get a third franchise.

‘But it isn’t the right time at the moment as my first focus is on getting the second franchise up and running.’ 

Dilan said his family had not always known he would become an entrepreneur. 

‘No, because I also had an interest in software design and development,’ he said. ‘But then when I started working at Pizza Hut I slowly realised that that was where my heart and future was.’

Dilan Elia’s business tips for other budding young entrepreneurs  

Dilan says knowing the Pizza Hut business from the ground up had stood him in good stead to run his own store. He is pictured at his Marsden Park restaurant

Dilan says knowing the Pizza Hut business from the ground up had stood him in good stead to run his own store. He is pictured at his Marsden Park restaurant

Dilan says knowing the Pizza Hut business from the ground up had stood him in good stead to run his own store. He is pictured at his Marsden Park restaurant

Dilan had some simple advice for other young people who had their sights set on a future in business.

‘Follow your heart and passions to dream big and stay focused,’ he said. ‘Don’t listen to your peers and ideas they give you, just listen to your own heart. 

‘No matter how unrealistic your ambition – your goal, your dream – sounds or looks like to others you can never give up. 

‘Other people’s opinions shouldn’t impact the way you work towards your passion and goals.

‘Anyone can do it if they set their mind to it and never give up.’

Showing leadership and having following a passion were vital, ‘because when you have the two you will become successful no matter what.’ 

Dilan was working ten to 35 hours a week at Pizza Hut while studying at Bossley Park High School. 

‘A couple of my friends had casual jobs during school as well but not all of them.’

Dilan said knowing the Pizza Hut business from the ground up had stood him in good stead to run his own store. 

‘It definitely is helpful knowing how the business runs,’ he said. ‘Being familiar with the customer base and being familiar with how the community engages with the company all helps in the making of success.’ 

Asked for a specific tip for budding entrepreneurs, Dilan quoted the American rapper Pitbull. 

‘There is a quote I have always looked up to which has driven me to achieve what I have so far: “There’s no losing only learning, there is no failure only opportunities and there is no problems only solutions.”

 

Choosing a career in business so early had initially caused his parents some concern.

‘They definitely got worried, they knew it was going to be a massive responsibility to take on,’ Dilan said. 

‘But at the end of the day they believed in me, although it took a little convincing and persuading initially.’

There had been some pressure from his family to go to university but he never considered it, focusing solely on his business ambitions instead. 

He had no plans for future studies. ‘No, I don’t feel the need to because I already have my future set with Pizza Hut,’ he said.

Dilan was clear about what personal quality had allowed him to take on so many responsibilities at such a young age. ‘Being determined,’ he said.

‘Without having the determination of achieving my goal of becoming a franchisee I wouldn’t be where I am today.’

Dilan was clear about what personal quality had allowed him to take on so many responsibilities at such a young age. 'Being determined,' he says

Dilan was clear about what personal quality had allowed him to take on so many responsibilities at such a young age. 'Being determined,' he says

Dilan was clear about what personal quality had allowed him to take on so many responsibilities at such a young age. ‘Being determined,’ he says

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