Former banker explains why he quit his job to bring Naked Pizza to Africa

Kenya’s hotel and restaurant sector is attracting local and foreign investment. US-based chain Naked Pizza is the latest international restaurant brand to enter the Kenyan market. The chain’s pizzas are “all-natural” and made from whole food ingredients. Former banker Ritesh Doshi told How we made it in Africa’s Dinfin Mulupi why he quit his job to bring the pizza franchise to Kenya.

Ritesh Doshi Picture: Aamera Jiwaji

Ritesh Doshi Picture: Aamera Jiwaji

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I spent my formative years in Kenya and later went to the London School of Economics. I worked for an investment bank and later a private equity firm in London, New York and San Francisco. In 2006 I had what I jokingly call my “quarter life crisis” and wanted to do something closer to home, so quit my job and did some consulting for USAID in South Sudan. I then bought a business in London, which I restructured and later sold, and then spent some time consulting in Kenya and Rwanda, helping businesses restructure, grow into new markets, and position themselves for future growth. After the financial crisis hit in 2008, I joined HSBC bank and worked in both London and the Middle East, but quickly realised I wanted to do something I was passionate about.

Throughout my career, I have often spent three to four days a week on the road, eating in thousands of restaurants and staying in hundreds of hotels, so knew I wanted to do something in the hospitality space.

Why Naked Pizza specifically?

When I was visiting my family here a few years ago, I had to wait over 75 minutes to get a pizza delivery on two separate occasions. That was it. I love pizza. After my time in Jordan, I declined a move to New York and decided to set this up. I secured the rights (for Naked Pizza) for East and Central Africa. Naked Pizza was founded in 2006 in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the recession. It’s naked because naked means natural. We don’t add any weird chemicals or preservatives to our food. Fast food is generally perceived to be unhealthy, but it doesn’t have to be.

We opened our first Naked Pizza store last November, which is the first store in Africa. Our plan is to open two more outlets this year, both of which are in the pipeline. I think Nairobi can support three to five stores, after which we will consider going regional. I have thought about bringing a lot of brands here, but this is a brand I can personally identify with and feel passionate about. I can eat the product every day, and therefore feel good about selling it. Delivery is the core part of our business. We have ten delivery motorcycles and will be adding more as demand grows. While we do have 40 seats, this isn’t a traditional restaurant, but rather a delivery place with a cool space to hang out.

Describe your target customer.

I believe that we appeal to a cross-section of people, across income, community and age divides; our brand and product transcends boundaries. A lot of Kenyans are getting increasing amounts of international exposure by travelling, studying and working abroad, and that translates not just into demand, but also expectation of international levels of services and products – and that is what a number of entrepreneurs have identified. The younger generation doesn’t just want to experience something, they also want to be seen experiencing it on social media and by their friends – especially if it is cool. We get a lot of expatriates too; from business people, to diplomats to people doing humanitarian work. It’s like a slice of back home for many of them!