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Obikà Mozzarella Bar hopes to grow in U.S.

Italian mozzarella concept focuses on quality ingredients

Raimondo Boggia hopes to do for imported Italian mozzarella di bufala what the sushi bar did for the California roll.

Last month, Boggia opened Obikà Mozzarella Bar in Los Angeles, an upscale-casual concept born in Italy with 14 locations around the world.

“Sushi was just one part of Japanese cuisine, but they took that concept everywhere,” said Boggia, president and chief executive of Santa Monica-based B Ventures USA LLC, which holds the master development rights to much of the western United States. “We thought, ‘This is something we could do with mozzarella.’”

Obikà Mozzarella Bar


HEADQUARTERS: Santa Monica, Calif.

MARKET SEGMENT: upscale- casual Italian

NO. OF UNITS: two in the United States; 14 worldwide

20 million Euro, or $26.1 million, projected for 2010

CHECK AVERAGE: $13 to $15 lunch; $22 to $23 dinner

LEADERSHIP: Raimondo Boggia, president and chief executive of B Ventures


METHOD OF GROWTH/FUNDING: private investors

NOTABLE COMPETITORS: independent chefs offering authentic fresh mozzarella

TARGET MARKETS: high-end retail settings


Obikà — which Boggia said is an exclamation that means “here it is!” in Italian — showcases authentic “mozzarella di bufala campana DOP,” or cheese made with water buffalo milk that comes from a specific “protected origin denomination” in the Paestum and Agro Pontino areas of Italy, near Naples. 

At the new location in a Westfield mall in Los Angeles’ Century City neighborhood, the mozzarella is flown in three times per week.

Obikà was established in 2004 by Silvio Ursini, a Naples-born executive with the Bulgari luxury brand who decided, after traveling extensively, that the world was lacking in authentic Italian food.

Ursini first tested the concept in Rome. There, the goal was to serve the cheese in a modern setting at peak freshness using quality ingredients and painstaking presentation.

The idea was such a hit, Ursini decided to open more in Rome and then Milan. His company operates eight locations around the world, and six more are franchised. The chain includes locations in London, Kuwait City, Tokyo and New York — with the next scheduled to open in Turkey this fall.

Systemwide sales for 2010 are expected to top 20 million Euros, or about $26.1 million, Ursini said during a visit to Los Angeles for the opening here.

“Last year was our best year ever. All units outperformed,” Ursini said.

The first Obikà in the United States opened in New York as a small kiosk in the IBM Building in midtown about two years ago, but the master developer there, 590 Madison LLC, has no current plans to expand on the East Coast, Ursini said. “We want to study the market more.”

However, Boggia — a business consultant who previously worked with Ursini at Bulgari — has big plans for the western United States, where the love of everything Italian is less dominated by old-world red-sauce traditions.

B Ventures holds the master development rights for Obikà in 19 states, and Boggia plans to open 20 units over the next five years — without subfranchising.

A second location is already under construction at the Beverly Center mall in West Hollywood. A third is planned for Santa Monica in 2011, and then Boggia said he will look for locations in San Francisco, San Diego and Las Vegas.

“We know we can replicate this because the concept is not based on a superstar chef but on the super quality of ingredients,” Boggia said.

Obikà in Los Angeles also includes a full bar, which Boggia estimates will account for about 35 percent of sales.

The restaurant has two basic formats: the smaller kiosk style that can be opened in airports or office buildings with less than 1,000 square feet, or the larger size, which ranges from 1,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet.

In Los Angeles, the mozzarella bar accommodates about 22 guests, and surrounding tables seat another 25 indoors and 28 outside on a patio.

Typically, the menu offers the “mozzarella di bufala experience,” a sampling platter of cheeses, including the classic fresh mozzarella, a smoked “affumicata” version and a bowl of creamy stracciatella di burrata at about $27 for two or $58 for four.

Boggia said the average check at lunch is about $13 to $15, and $22 to $23 at dinner. He expects the first Los Angeles location, which encompasses about 1,900 square feet, to generate annual sales of $2 million.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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