A New York-style pizzeria has opened in Dubai in the Jumeirah Centre, its first location outside the United States, with plans for several more in the UAE and wider region.
Russo's New York Pizzeria was founded in Texas by the chef Anthony Russo, a first-generation Italian-American, in the 1990s.
He started franchising the chain when he had just three outlets, and there are now 30 Russo's restaurants dotted across the United States. The pizzeria is being introduced into the UAE by Prime Hospitality.
The first restaurant in the country opened yesterday and others are to follow in Abu Dhabi at Al Wahda Mall next week and in Sharjah's Sahara Centre next month.
"About four years ago we came to Dubai for the first time and my goal was to franchise in the Middle East because I felt that we had to bring good pizza to the market," said Mr Russo, who was in the UAE for yesterday's launch.
The chain chose to exhibit at Gulfood and knew it had potential for success here when people queued for hours to taste the pizza.
"After that we realised that this is a market to develop," said Joe Hroch, Russo's general counsel. "In the Middle East everyone wants to have the best. But you really need to see the best … to know what the best is and that's what we're bringing."
Prime Hospitality, which owns the franchise for the UAE only, plans to open up to 10 restaurants in the Emirates.
"All our brands have to have a niche in the market that is not realised yet. What appealed to us with Russo's is the fact it has fresh ingredients," said Murad Al Nasur, the general manager of Prime Hospitality. "Actually when we built this location, we added a freezer thinking they were going to have some frozen products and they said 'forget it. We're not going to have any frozen products. Everything is fresh'."
Russo's aims to open about 26 restaurants in the Middle East over the next five to seven years.
It is planning to open restaurants in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
"We see a lot of growth potential here. Kuwait is available. Oman is available. There are good markets there we want to tap into," said Mr Russo.
Pizzas cost between Dh40 (US$11) and Dh60 at Russo's and it makes what it claims is the largest pizza in the UAE, a 28-inch monster, which costs Dh155, minus toppings, and feeds eight to 10 people.