When Hell Pizza opened up above the old Victoria University squash club in Wellington, it seemed like a mad capping week stunt.

One tiny kitchen, three guys with caffeine-shot eyes, seven deadly sins. Craziest of all, selling quality pizza to impoverished students who (frankly) would eat tomato sauce smeared on cardboard if it was cheap.

Hell expanded by combining irreverent marketing and devilish hard work with a really good product.

Then they sold their souls to big business. In 2006, for about $15 million, Burger King franchisee Tasman Pacific Foods Group acquired the pizza chain, while the boys set off to open up shop in Australia, Britain and Ireland.

Back home, Hell still kept the Advertising Standards Authority busy with complaints about a condom giveaway promoting its "Lust" pizza, Hitler billboards and Thai massages.

But the fire was gone. A leaked memo told franchisees to cut toppings by a quarter, while maintaining prices and secrecy. The new owners had forgotten that while branding was important, quality was critical. They might as well have been serving tomato sauce on cardboard.

This week, the Hell boys bought back their company. The brand had got confused, they said. They would target quality, rather than trying to compete on price with Domino's.

It is a timely reminder that Brand NZ is founded on excellence, not gimmicks. And now, the Hell boys are firmly on the side of the angels.