Check out photos from Naked Pizza's Dubai unit.
Naked Pizza opened its first international unit in Dubai at the end of January. The tourism-heavy, economically-thriving location was the New Orleans-based company’s first dive into international waters. And with good reason.
"Dubai represents acting on a promise at the core of our business mission – to launch the world's largest grassroots health movement on the back of an estimated $50 billion dollar global industry,” said Naked Pizza partner Robbie Vitrano. “The folks in Dubai seem to like the (Naked Pizza) concept, with great interest in our entrepreneurial model, use of social media and take on diet and obesity/chronic disease."
Naked Pizza was created on the premise of delivering a “delicious, convenient and affordable pizza that fits into a healthy lifestyle.” Company officials say they’re out to prove that a fast food favorite can be both healthy and tasty while also creating a business model for investment, profit and scale.
To coincide with that mission, Naked Pizza’s menu items start at $4.99 for a 10-inch pie, and the menu boasts unprocessed ingredients that are free of additives, trans fat or other chemicals.
The new unit is located in the United Arab Emirate city’s Marina District, also known as “new Dubai,” which harbors residential towers, one of the world’s largest manmade marinas, towering skyscrapers, shops, restaurants and more.
Other Naked Pizza outlets also opened within the past few weeks in Boston (the city’s second), San Diego, Lexington, Ky., and Coral Gables, Fla., pushing the company’s unit count to about 15 in less than a year’s time. The pace is about to get even faster, with Cincinnati set to debut next week, and 60 to 75 more units planned by year’s end.
Those plans include a push into international markets, inspired by the Dubai store’s success, which has been "massive," according to co-founder Jeff Leach. A second Dubai unit is set to open April 1. Naked Pizza is in talks with developers in Istanbul, Cape Town, Manila and London, for starters, and is close to turning on the lights in Mumbai. Leach will also head to Kuwait next week to figure out a development deal there.
In its quest to open 450-plus locations within the next five years, Naked Pizza launched its franchise component in late 2009 with backing from influential investors, including Mark Cuban and The Kraft Group. Since, numerous franchising deals have been inked for New York City, Phoenix, Denver, Washington, D.C., and more.
Arabian Peninsula expansion planned
Vitrano said Naked Pizza's first few weeks in Dubai have been met with "raw enthusiasm." As it continues to bring its broader Arabian Peninsula expansion plans to fruition, Naked Pizza will embrace cultural sensitivity and refer to itself as N_K_D Pizza in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.
The company’s goal is to open 100 stores across the peninsula within the next five years, including in Dubailand, an entertainment complex with more than 3 billion square feet of theme parks, sports, shopping and entertainment.
So far, the company has signed three leases in the area, headed by Ian Ohan, who Vitrano refers to as an active member of the young entrepreneurial movement. It’s that business spirit that has Vitrano particularly excited about the brand’s fit in the region.
“In Dubai, in addition to the flood of international development interest, what has been most extraordinary is the rich interaction we've had with the powerful, emerging Arab and expat entrepreneurial class, activated by social media, organizing tweetups, geekfests and TEDx events, embracing us, guiding us and ultimately making our hard opening virtually anything but,” he said. “It’s been a rather amazing whirlwind.”
Vitrano and Naked Pizza’s other founding members, which include Jeff Leach, Randy Crochet and Brock Fillinger, have even been asked to keynote several major conferences in the area, touching on topics such as social entrepreneurship, marketing and public health policy.
Marketing seems to be a fitting topic for the company, known for its Twitter-based advertising. Naked Pizza was the first company to use a billboard soliciting Twitter followers; a hyper-local tactic Leach claims generated 69 percent of sales during a one-day Twitter promotion.
Smart car delivery and other features
Also as part of its mission, Naked Pizza touts its healthy components – including a crust fortified with probiotics – and social responsibility. To subscribe to the latter, the chain has incorporated a green-branded Smart car delivery fleet in Dubai.
The fleet, which includes scooters, is not only more energy efficient but also smaller in size, which is convenient for drivers to navigate the Dubai loop, an area riddled with the world’s largest media, advertising and technology companies. This new delivery component will expand as the chain expands.
Also as its international and domestic portfolios grow, Naked Pizza will continue to rely on its health-based philosophy, as well as its use of technology and its Franchising 2.0 model.
"Our combination of a business strategy that hacks into a successful model, igniting with an authentic mission and frictionless use of a technology platform makes it possible,” Vitrano said. “It all fits together – conscious capitalism, a reinvention of a highly successful but out of step business model, post-recession economics, post-mass media technology deployment, mentoring, collaboration and engagement. We've covered a lot of ground in short time, because we can."
Alicia Kelso has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.