800PIZZA Founder Alessandro D’Ubaldo opened the Italian restaurant’s first outlet in 2007, and now operates six across the UAE. We find out the main ingredients to the entrepreneur’s recipe for success.
You’ve started the business 12 years ago; tell us more about how it all began.
Initially, my wife and I were running a very profitable real estate business in Dubai and all was going well, but then realised that there was something missing. We were yet to find great wood-fired pizza in the city – something that we loved to eat. At the end of the day, we believe that it’s the simple things that matter the most, and so we decided that we’d like to dive into the pizza-making business. This is how 800PIZZA was born.
How has the market changed over the years, and how has demand evolved?
In my opinion, changes in the market weren’t that drastic. Consumer trends come and go, but a good pizza is a good pizza. We’ve remained authentic and true to both our recipe and menu for 12 years now, giving our customers pizza that we enjoy eating too – and the response has been positive so far.
We’ve conducted a lot of trial-and-error experiments with our pizza and topping combinations – some have stuck, while others didn’t work out, and that’s OK. We’d like to continue to offer our customers the best pizza we can, which means we have to remain consistent with our quality, while being innovative at the same time.
Most of our business comes from loyal customers who love 800PIZZA, and we want to show more people in the region and beyond what we have to offer.
Tell us more about the type of customer who visits 800PIZZA, have you noticed any changes in preferences and special requests?
In the past few years, we’ve focused on honing our home delivery service to make it faster and more efficient, so that customers receive our pizza the way it’s supposed to be savoured – hot, fresh and cheesy.
However, we’re beginning to see the emergence and rise of a niche lifestyle of veganism. Some of our customers are vegan, which is a bit of a shift; two years ago, it was all about being gluten-free, while five years ago, it was all about being organic and using whole wheat.
People’s interests and lifestyles constantly change, and we need to be able to adapt to suit their needs. Once we realised that there was a growing number of vegan customers, we introduced the vegan pizza, made using Italian 100% vegan cheese.
What were some of the most unexpected challenges you’ve faced?
Honestly, when we started this new venture, we didn’t expect it to take off and resonate with people so quickly. We needed to expand internally, which meant a lot of focus was placed on hiring new staff and providing proper training in order to maximise potential and maintain consistency. Essentially, we needed to cater to increasing demand in the market.
The rate at which we were growing was quite astonishing and exciting, so getting a jump-start on things as quickly as possible was vital. However, I suppose all of these efforts have paid off and, thankfully, we’ve enjoyed some great success over the past decade. I’ve always believed that customers would keep coming back if we had a quality offering, and we proved it time and time again by taking care of customers’ taste buds, resulting in robust recent quarter performances. It’s been a great journey up until now and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.
What are your bestselling dishes and what makes them unique?
I think that what stands out on our menu is definitely our range of pizzas, which are made to perfection. They’re divine because we make them thin, light and crispy – so people don’t feel “heavy” or too bloated after eating them.
Our pizzas are definitely what make 800PIZZA stand out, and that’s always been the case. It has made our business what it is today. When it comes to our dessert menu, our tiramisu is the highlight. We respect its Italian roots and make it that way with proper ingredients, which will never change. Our customers thoroughly enjoy it, which makes us happy.
How are you finding the experience of dealing with suppliers and sourcing ingredients?
It’s been very smooth. Over the years, we’ve built an excellent relationship with our suppliers, and enjoy mutual trust. Everyone works well together and it helps get things done. We always settle our invoices within 30 days, and without any delays. We’re very particular and systematic in the way we do things, ensuring that no one faces unnecessary tension or issues.
What do you think is the key to leading an F&B business to success in the region?
There’s no “key” as such, but my advice would be to watch your rent, which can have a major impact on your revenue. Remaining authentic and giving customers good quality products is the only way to maintain a regular inflow, and keep them coming back for more.
I believe that consistency and quality go a long way. At the end of the day, the customer is King in our industry. I also believe that, in present day, having a variety of dishes on the menu is crucial because there are people with different lifestyle choices, so catering to them and making them feel included is very important.
What’s next for 800PIZZA?
We aim to expand throughout the region and go beyond as well. We’re slowly achieving our goal since successfully opening six branches in the last twelve years. I’m even more excited for what awaits the F&B industry, especially with Expo 2020 around the corner. We’re geared up and ready to take on new challenges and experiences.
We clocked in an admirable 8 percent growth in sales and 20 percent in profits in Q1 2019, and we’re excited to see what the next two quarters of 2019 as well as 2020 hold for us. We’re looking to build and expand our portfolio by partnering with investors who are a strategic fit and are open to franchising and investment opportunities.