By Hanna Nakano – https://gulfnewsjournal.com

A New York-style pizzeria is making it big in the Middle East, with plans to open more than two dozen additional restaurants over the coming years.

Russo’s New York Pizzeria, a 46-location fast-casual franchisor based out of Houston, Texas, opened its first Middle East location in the UAE back in 2013. In June, the company opened an additional restaurant at the Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi.

“The fans were clamoring for a taste of our New York-style pizza,” Chef Anthony Russo, company founder and CEO, exclusively told Gulf News Journal.

There’s a desire for authentic New York-style pizza in the Middle East, Russo said, and his restaurants are bridging that gap.

“With our handcrafted recipes, old-world charm and warm hospitality, there is nothing quite like Russo’s in the market currently,” Russo said. “We offer original Italian recipes that visitors, shoppers and local residents will fall in love with.”

The fast-casual restaurant segment is the fastest growing in the industry, according to Forbes — and Russo’s Restaurants is reaping the benefits. In 2015, Russo’s revenues were more than 10 percent higher than expected, according to the company. Even more growth is expected in 2016.

Sales at Russo’s newest openings brought in as much as $35,000 to $60,000 a week, according to the company. Annual sales surpass $1 million per location.

In the next few years, the company plans to open 28 more restaurants in the Middle East. Locations in Dubai and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are already in the works, Russo said.

“I have been asked numerous times why I decided to take Russo’s overseas to the Middle East,” Russo told Gulf News Journal. “My response: ‘Why not?’ We have the best tasting New York-style pizza in the fast-casual category, and the rest of our menu is filled with culinary delights. Plus, the Russo’s experience is like no other. The UAE appreciates premium brands, and Russo’s is the perfect fit.”

In addition to growth in the U.S. and in the Middle East, Russo’s Restaurants is discussing growth in France, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand and China, according to the company.

This global pizza expansion was not thought up in some boardroom with top executives, Russo said. Rather, it was the dream of a little boy learning to cook.

“I knew that one day I would share my passion for Italian food with the world,” Russo said. “I remember shaping cannoli around the handle of a broomstick with my grandmother when I was 12 in our New Jersey kitchen.”

Russo’s Restaurants — marketed as Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen and Russo’s New York Pizzeria — will exhibit its classic Italian food and New York-style pizza at the Gulfood 2016 trade show at the Dubai World Trade Center in February.

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