How do you say chutzpah in Italian? My dictionary suggests temerarietà, sfrontatezza, and faccia tosta. It’s true that Domino’s is the largest pizza chain in the world with more than 17,000 stores in 90 countries. But to think that the company could win over Italians in the very country that invented pizza seemed like a kamikaze business move.
Domino’s began in Milan in 2015 with 29 branches in the major cities and with plans to open 880 more stores. According to one account, it hoped to win customers with “purely Italian” ingredients, including “authentic” tomato sauce, Prosciutto di Parma, Gorgonzola, Grana Padana and Mozzarella di Bufala. Another account said that Domino’s planned to convert Italians’ taste in pizza through creations like pineapple pizza, cheeseburger pizza and BBQ chicken pizza.
Whatever the menu, Domino’s also planned to distinguish itself by providing a structured national delivery service. Then the pandemic hit. When in-person dining was shut down, pizzerias and other restaurants in Italy scaled up home delivery, using third-party services such as Deliveroo, Just Eat Takeaway and Glovo.
Domino’s said its troubles were the result of a “significantly increased level of competition in the food delivery market with both organized chains and ‘mom and pop’ restaurants delivering food to survive.” However, even when pandemic restrictions were eased and consumers returned to sit-down restaurants, Domino’s still couldn’t survive. Seven years after its debut in Italy, the American pizza giant formally shut its stores in July 2022.
Some American chains have been more successful in Italy. Starbuck’s opened in Milan in 2018. Even though Starbuck’s was originally inspired by Italy’s coffee culture, infiltrating the country that brought espresso to the world seemed a bit crazy. Starbuck’s roasting method is different from Lavazza’s, for example, the serving sizes are gigantic (along with the prices), and the store culture is different from the bar scene in Italy. However, its Reserve Roastery in Milan is as much a museum and market (with cornetti and panini and other genuine Italian products) as it is a coffee store. In the international city of fashion, this one seems to be working, possibly with more foreign customers than Italians. Who knows where Starbuck’s expansion plans will take them?
In the meantime, Domino’s footprint in the home of pizza is disappearing. Social media abounded with comments like, “Hilarious to think that Domino’s thought they could conquer Italy,” “Madness,” “Trying to open Domino’s Pizza in Italy is like trying to sell snow in the North Pole.”