Meet the place where small bites are prepared with big hearts
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
I was always a huge fan of Italian cuisine, and even though working in DIFC gives me an option to enjoy one of the best restaurants in Dubai, my very first lunch break in Tonda was love at first bite. It’s not only because of their amazing pasta, dishes made with daily fresh ingredients, and feast for my taste buds, but mostly because of the vibe this place has thanks to its charming staff, but the owner itself.
It’s one of those places that reminds you on that 80’s American sitcom television series that ran on NBC called “Cheers” and their theme song “Where everybody knows your name”:
“Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they're always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
Our troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name”
Yes, Tonda is definitely that kind of place, but in an Italian way, despite the fact their very handsome Chef Isuru actually comes from Sri Lanka. Once you try his Pasta Carbonara, you will know you had one of the best in Dubai. Feel free to double check. ;)
The entire Tonda crew is very friendly, playful and smiley. I guess thanks to their “Capo Di Tutti Capi” - Federico Cazzarolli, 30-year young man that stands behind this dolce famiglia.
While I am enjoying my favorite – gnocchi with shrimps in a white sauce and their famous “Pizza bread” aside, he is telling me a story about Tonda's journey.
AD: How have you decided to move to Dubai and open a restaurant in the UAE?
While attending university studies, I was also working part time in GIOVANNI RANA, a large company in Verona that produces fresh pasta, like ravioli, gnocchi, tagliatelle etc. Once I finished my degree in Management Engineering, I was invited for lunch with a gentleman, who I have never personally met before, but always admired his business approach. Although his business was not related to F&B, he decided to introduce me to another of his successful ventures called Tonda.
He saw a huge potential in this concept of small bites, actually small pizza - called pizzetta. His idea was to open this chain of restaurants around the world, and Dubai was on that list along with Rome, Sydeney, Ho Chi Minh City, Madrid and London.
Since I was always used to working in hotels and restaurants during my studies, I was quite familiar with the hospitality industry, but at the same time I knew this was a big challenge along with a huge responsibility. I really didn’t want to fail his expectations now that I was given this enormous opportunity.
First Tonda restaurant was opened in Pescara, a small town in Abruzzo region; one of the top ten economic, commercial, and tourist centres on the Adriatic coast. I went there to learn more about this business, literally - how to make pizza, how to run the restaurant, manage waiters, cooks, chefs and how to lead our little F&B army.
I moved to Dubai in 2017 and started looking for a location, learning how to establish the company and finally, in June 2019, right after Ramadan we proudly opened Tonda’s door to everyone who wanted a “bite of Italy” on their plate.
AD: WHAT IS A “MUST TRY” ON TONDA'S MENU?
It’s definitely our famous pizzette. We are talking about unique handmade small pizza made from premium ingredients and with organic flour. This 6.5inch of pure happiness can be made with Fior di latte mozzarella, Organic tomato sauce, mushrooms and black truffle, tuna and onions, taggiasca olives, gorgonzola cheese and porcini mushrooms, shrimps and zucchini, beef bresaola, rocca and parmesan cheese, anchovies and cherry tomatoes,…well, you name it!
If you are not in the mood for pizza, we will do our best to make you happy with our Chicken
Milanese, which is also one of our best sellers. Pasta in all shapes and sizes, Snacks & Panini, Salads, Soups and Desserts of course. You won’t leave our place hungry for sure.
AD: What do you love the most about living and working in the UAE?
I have to be honest, it took a lot of adjustment, especially when you come from a small town as Verona is. On the other hand, this country of endless possibilities literally offers something for everyone, and there are two things I love the most – one is safety and the other is this amazing weather. Yes, summer is not that charming, but having sunny days almost 9 months a year is truly wonderful. Feeling this level of security is also connected to my business. When I close the restaurant in the evening, I really do not have to worry that something bad could happen, and it gives me a peace of mind.
Dubai is a city that will spoil you, and as you know, we Italians do know how to celebrate life. When it comes to work, one of the best things about my job is interaction with our guests, and I am very happy to say that some of them became very close personal friends of mine.
AD: You recently opened a new branch – the “Ghost kitchen”. Can you comment on that?
In mid of July, we’ve finally managed to open our second location in Hessa Street, but it is for delivery only. I think COVID-19 challenges pushed hospitality sector to embrace (new) concepts that would keep our business running, so we have decided to rent a unit in the Cloud Kitchen aka Ghost Kitchen. Cloud kitchens are licensed commercial food production facilities where anywhere from one or two to dozens of restaurants rent space to prepare delivery-optimized menu items.
We have also decided for this venture following increase in demand for delivery, but also to expand our business in other areas of Dubai. Now residents living in Dubai Marina, JLT, JVC, Palm, Media City can also enjoy our specialties from the comfort of their home. It is also a good test for us to see if we should open another branch for dining in that area.
AD: Who is managing your Marketing / social media and can you comment on that part of your business?
We are working with Donut Media – creative digital marketing agency who is managing our social media account. I am very satisfied with their scope of work - how they produce our content, create promotions, and manage our profiles.
I have noticed the increase in orders after launching certain campaigns. I would say I am very satisfied with our ROI when it comes to digital advertising. I think marketing is a world itself, even though I am millennial I still get surprised about certain techniques marketers use these days.
People on social media eat with their eyes, so when it comes to promotion of F&B, having the right kind of content – the one that can present the real “taste and smell” is the one that will bring customers to your restaurant.
AD: What is Tonda's, main ingredient “when it comes to differentiation between this and
other Italian restaurants?
I would say it all comes down to people. Guests won’t revisit a restaurant only for great food, but because of the service and ambiance as well. My team is doing their best to deliver our service on point. On the other hand, we have some dishes that our customers suggested to put on the menu, and we gladly agreed.
I guess that is the beauty of this job – we are constantly talking with our guests, listening to their advice because we truly value their input that helps us perform better. Their wish is our command, and that is the golden rule of true hospitality. When you add the quality and price range factor into this equation, you can only end up with a positive result.
AD: Have you managed to visit The Italy Pavilion at EXPO 2020?
Not yet, but I am really looking forward to it. Last weekend I went to Abu Dhabi and met a waiter from Gambia. Once I saw how much it would mean to him to go and see the Gambia Pavilion, I decided to give him the ticket which I got with Fly Emirates once I flew back from Italy to Dubai. He was so thrilled, so he asked for my phone number so he could share his experience with me after he went. I guess EXPO2020 means a lot to everyone around here because it is one fabulous way to connect with your home country and be proud of your own roots, showcased at such an incredible event as World Expo is.
AD: Saving the best for last - If you want “Dolce Vita”, which dessert should you order?
In Italy, we call it “Il salame di cioccolato”, and it is actually a very common dolce, at least in Verona. My mum came to visit me in Dubai and she was the one that suggested putting it on the menu. The first one we made in Tonda was done by her. It soon became one of our bestsellers as well and our guests love to order it with our Lavazza espresso or cappuccino.
As we finished our conversation, just on the way out, I suddenly hear on the radio maybe the most perfect way to end up this article that summarize my impression about this cute little Tonda place: