Naked Pizza covers up for Middle East

Store planned for Dubai to be called 'N_K_D Pizza'

Naked Pizza, the four-unit pizza chain based in New Orleans, is stripping down its name as it expands to the more conservative Middle East.

The chain's first store outside the United States, set to open in the Dubai Marina in the United Arab Emirates in January, will carry the name “N_K_D Pizza.”

The name was modified so as to not offend potential customers in region, the company said, and got the endorsement of the local developer, which will be basing its Middle East headquarters near the first unit in Dubai.

“We were fully aware of the cultural sensitivities in the Arab world,” said Naked Pizza co-founder Robbie Vitrano. “We've had significant interest from throughout the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council], so while we're focused on refining our international beachhead in Dubai, we’ve always been mindful of our eventual expansion.”

The company professes that the name refers not to the titillating nature of how customers might eat the pie in the privacy of their own homes, but rather the healthful, no-additive, no-preservative nature of the ingredients.

“People always ask the story behind our name, and it’s simple,” said Jeff Leach, Naked Pizza's other co-founder. “Naked means natural — we don’t have any artificial additives or preservatives in our pizzas. They're made from a diversity of natural ingredients that taste better and are better for you. Our pizzas are about lifestyle — for people who want to be healthy as opposed to dieting.”

Vitrano added in an e-mail Wednesday: “Our brand is about engagement.  But everything we do — provocative or otherwise — is anchored in the substance of our mission.”

Vitrano also said the United Arab Emirates market appears to be very engaged in social media, the use of which Naked Pizza has been an considered an innovator.

“What we have found in a relatively short amount of time is that there is an active and talented young entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region, enthusiastically embracing post-mass-media communications technology (social media), eager to assert themselves and take their place in the ‘what comes next’ in the region, economically and socially,” Vitrano added.

Naked Pizza has franchised units open in Miami and Altamonte Springs, Fla., and in Louisville, Ky. In early October, the chain awarded multi-unit franchising rights in New York City and Phoenix, Ariz.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]