When pizza takes on the planet: Russo’s founder on going global with finesse

November 7, 2018

Even as New York-style pizza chain, Russo’s New York Pizzeria, begins expanding deep in the southwest, the brand’s namesake founder and chef, Anthony Russo, is celebrating the concept’s success with international audiences. The chain’s leadership said late last week, it’s planning to expand with 15 new locations in both Texas and Arizona to augment the current four restaurants in the Lone Star state, and 48 worldwide.

But with its heavy emphasis on a decidedly American take on pizza, Pizza Marketplace was interested to find out more about how the brand takes its menu to the very different cultures that exist in its seven United Arab Emirates and one Saudi Arabian locations.

Russo acknowledged that the path around the world with any restaurant brand is fraught with bumps and detours. But he and the brand’s worldwide team have not only embarked on that trip, but picked up some road knowledge along the way that they wanted to share with other brands interested in global expansion.

First and foremost for those embarking on this type of journey, Russo emphasized the absolute necessity to stay true to who you are. That means everything he said, even in wildly disparate cultures like those the brand has encountered in the Middle East.

“Brand consistency is key,” Russo said in an interview with Pizza Marketplace. “Consumers trust a brand they can recognize no matter where they visit around the world.

“Consistency equals dependability. Our guests will be served our same amazing New York Style Pizza and favorite Italian dishes from Houston, Texas to Saudi Arabia, and everywhere in between.”

But Russo said even though the core menu remains the same regardless of global location, the brand still remain sensitive to regional preferences, both cultural and otherwise. That’s why he said he always like to include a few dishes that use local ingredients, which also gives the brand’s culinary team a chance to develop so-called “off-menu” specials. He said the brand’s use of figs with their pies in the Middle East has provided some delicious results.

But where does a brand and its leadership start when it comes to even identifying what the big hot local foods are in a new a very culturally different location? And once those “hot items” are identified, how does leadership then find ways to use them in ways that are still consistent with the brand’s approach to food?

That answer to those questions, of course, is all in good field research. There are a lot of ways to go about that kind of food fact-finding mission, but in Russo’s case, the brand relies a lot on what its chef’s impeccable tongue, adventurous approach to food and good, solid traveling research, where Russo samples the local food scene.

“This helps me get a taste of the flavors of the region,” he said. “As a chef, it gives me a chance to explore different flavors from around the world. Food brings people together. I enjoy seeing people take that first bite and can see their reaction firsthand.”

For instance, in the Middle East he said has added a new brunch menu, as well as a dessert menu.

“I have also added new menu items like our Fig and Bresaola (a form of dried, salted beef) Pizza, a Spinach and Medjool Date Calzone, and a Truffle Mushroom Risotto,” he said, adding that all the while, Middle Eastern “guests are thrilled to be able to have a taste of our authentic New York style pizza.”

And it never hurts when the man behind the brand likes the stuff on the menu enough to order it himself on a regular basis. On that count, Russo said personally, he really likes one of the daily specials offered at Middle Eastern locations, a seafood risotto that includes shrimp, clams and mussels in a spicy marinara.

As far as the plan internationally when it comes to future growth, Russo said the brand is stepping on the proverbial “gas” when it comes to expansion and that the system is growing as a result. But he said, they follow a motto of staying true to who they are by keeping the focus on great food and hospitality. That, he said, is a success strategy no matter where you are on the planet.

“Pizza will never go out of style,” he said, adding, “With family Italian recipes and authentic New York Style Pizza, there’s just not anyone like us.”

Feature photo: iStock

Inset photo: Provided

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