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RIYADH: Saudi-based Italian restaurant La Rustica Pizzeria opened a pop-up in Marbella, Spain, after success in the Kingdom.

La Rustica Pizzeria opened its doors in January 2016 as a unique Italian restaurant that serves authentic Neapolitan pizza in Riyadh.

It was co-founded by Saudi couple Najla Al-Radadi and Sultan Al-Shmassy, who are passionate about Italian cuisine.

The Marbella pop-up started in June and will be in operation until September, as a collaboration concept with an existing Italian restaurant in Marbella called Incontro.

The restaurant, located in Marbella’s Centro Comercial Cristamar near Puerto Banus, has received significant positive feedback.

In the past five years, La Rustica has been popping up in carefully selected locations in Saudi Arabia, such as Alkhobar and Riyadh. In the capital, it is located in Al-Olaya, Diplomatic Quarter and soon in King Abdullah Financial District. The Marbella pop-up is the first out-of-Saudi site for the restaurant.

Al-Radadi and Al-Shmassy told Arab News; “To be the first to introduce Neapolitan pizza in Riyadh makes La Rustica stand out. It has been a risk making the first move, especially as we have to import 90 percent of our products and ingredients – including the wood-fired oven – from Italy.”

The casual-dining restaurant serves authentic Neapolitan pizza made with long-fermented dough, tomatoes, and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. Customers can also enjoy a wide range of appetizers, salads, pasta, steak, desserts, and coffee.

The vibes of the Marbella location of La Rustica mimic that of a simple pizzeria with a rustic atmosphere, and the familiarity of a bonafide Italian kitchen from Napoli.

The co-founders said that Marbella was chosen for the pop-up for several reasons.

“Our customer segment in Riyadh covers mainly people who spend (their) summer vacation in Marbella. It is a global summer hub where we can expose the taste of La Rustica to more customers worldwide.”

The restaurant began as a family business with 10 indoor tables and minimal menu options. It was purely passion that drove the owners to start the business, and introduce Neapolitan pizza to Riyadh.

“It started slow, but word of mouth has been a strong tool that La Rustica Pizzeria had since its inception in 2016. Soon enough, we gained people’s trust and were able to meet target market customers through the help of those who have been loyal to us.”

Since then, La Rustica has been able to sustain consistency in terms of food, services, and presentation. “This became a success due to our aim of promoting authenticity not only with food but also with the approach on restaurant design, setup and the whole environment itself,” they said.

The challenges the couple faced in opening in Marbella are numerous, but the main ones are “understanding the local Spanish regulations, tax system, finding the correct partner, and in bidding our concept to local Spanish tastes,” they said.

Opening in Marbella was a great success story for everyone at La Rustica, especially those who worked hard in the last six years to make the restaurant prosper in Riyadh.

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