In the cutthroat world of Pizza, it pays to have an edge.
For Cinzia Gambini, owner of the Biancorosso pizzeria in Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan district, that edge is being a native of the country where the cheesy discs – now one of the world’s most plenitudinous fast foods – were first baked more than 1,000 years ago.
As the Oxford English Dictionary makes clear, pizza is “a dish of Italian origin, consisting of a flat round base of dough baked with a topping of tomatoes and cheese, typically with added meat, fish, or vegetables … literally, ‘pie’.”
Aside from its “Italianness”, the pizza is a simple-sounding dish that many clearly feel they can master, and indeed Abu Dhabi is no different from any other sizeable world metropolis in being choc-a-bloc with pizza options.
There can be hardly an evening when an Abu Dhabi resident doesn’t come home to a new menu offering on his or her doorstep, about half of which are for pizza, or at least that include such an option.
For someone contemplating going into the food retail business in the capital, it is hard to imagine a more competitive market to choose than the pizzeria restaurant and/or delivery business.
So what prompted Ms Gambini, whose profession was jewellery and interior design in her home country, to opt for pizza when she decided to go into business for herself four years ago?
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“When I came here I had no idea, no clue what business to do in this country,” says Ms Gambini, who first moved to Dubai eight years ago with her husband, who was in the power boat business at the time, and their two children.
“I didn’t know how to find the right niche. At the beginning I thought of representing some Italian design companies,” she says, but the market here wasn’t quite right for the kind of companies she had previously been involved with, such as Edra and the Italian arm of Knoll, which tend towards an avant garde style.
The motivation for the pizzeria also came from that frequent source of entrepreneurial inspiration: she and her family were disappointed with what was already on offer.
“Honestly, when we came here we couldn’t find a really good pizza,” says Ginevra Nencha, Ms Gambini’s 19-year old daughter, a third-year business student at Canadian University Dubai who doubles as Biancorosso’s communication manager.
“As Italians, we’d see all these places and think they were really cliché,” Ms Nencha adds.
Italian cliché is something mother and daughter were determined to repudiate. This is clear from their expressions when asked whether the pizza chef, who can be seen in the open kitchen when entering the restaurant, throws the dough for the amusement of customers, as you might find in the touristy parts of Rome or Brooklyn.
There are no red chequered tablecloths in Biancorosso, no pictures of the leaning tower of Pisa hanging of the wall, no tubby mustachioed waiters in waistcoats.
The décor is very modern European with a lot of white surfaces, which Ms Gambini says was inspired to some degree by her previous design work.
The atmosphere is unpretentious and informal. There is a large display plaque with the motif of football giants AC Milan and a flat-screen television on the back wall, where one can imagine a Serie A match playing at the weekend.
The windows are covered with a distinctive red tint, which online reviews make clear is not to every customer’s taste.
In other words, Biancorosso, which is located on a corner on the northern boundary of Al Nahyan, would not look out of place on the streets of Milan itself.
But the real Italian core of the pizzeria is that all of the ingredients come from Italy, especially the flour (everyone knows the base is key to good pizza, as well as the pasta dishes it carries), and the mozzarella and dairy products from “an Italian man in Ajman”, Ms Gambini says.
The dough once it is made must rest for 30 hours. “If you don’t let it rest that long the dough will rise more in your stomach after you eat it,” she explains.
Getting the restaurant off the ground faced the usual teething problems. There is a tale of trying to move the huge wood oven – “wood, not gas-and-wood as my competitors use” – on a forklift over the newly-laid tiles, which promptly cracked.
Location is key to any retail establishment and Biancorosso was lucky that Al Nahyan began to fill up with office clients from the likes of Mubadala and the local headquarters for the Lulu supermarket group.
But, as Ms Nencha says, “our biggest achievement was when the Italian community in Abu Dhabi told us it is a good pizza – then we know we’re doing good work.”
This included pizza gigs at the Italian embassy – those pictures are on the wall, with guests including prominent Abu Dhabi royals.
Financing wasn’t a big problem. The bureaucracy was fairly straightforward – “especially compared to my country,” says Ms Gambini – and she was lucky with her local partner.
The restaurant got to break-even within eight months and Biancorosso then teamed with another local partner (and fan of its pizza, who had approached Ms Gambini) to start a food truck business, which includes a full-size wood oven on board.
Another truck is the focus of Biancorosso’s expansion, together with a possible new restaurant located out towards the airport, which is underserved, Ms Gambini says.
“The food business is good in this country,” she reckons. “People love to eat, especially real Italian food.”
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