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The very first Mamma Roma restaurant opened its doors at Place Flagey in Brussels in 2005. Before long, several more would sprout up across the capital. The concept combines a rotating menu of delicious pizza (soup, antipasti and desserts are also available) with the convenience of casual, walk-up service and an atmosphere midway between contemporary chic and mod-inspired retro.
Zacchary Zribi was impressed. The Parisian food industry veteran had his first taste of Mamma Roma on a visit to Brussels last year. It was a revelation. He suspected that if he could do the same in his hometown, it would be a hit.
So Zribi made a bid for the franchise, left his job managing a Paris sushi joint and set up shop in the Rue du Cherche-Midi, not far from the French capital’s most existential quartier Saint-Germain-des-Prés (erstwhile home of Jean-Paul Sartre), and just around the corner from the world’s first department store Le Bon Marché. Another neighbouring landmark for literary trainspotters is the house at Rue Saint-Placide 31, where quintessential fin-de-siècle novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans died in 1907.
It’s a bustling neighbourhood filled with shops and cafés, in the midst of which visitors from Belgium will be stunned and perhaps comforted to find this island of familiarity. The new restaurant is a carbon copy of the Belgian template, all the way down to the toppings on the pizza and the pictures on the walls.
Since opening in November 2013, Zribi has operated his part of the Mamma Roma empire with a full-time crew of five Parisians, including his sister Emilie Reichman. For her part, Reichman put her previous career in marketing on hold to help out her brother and she’s enjoying the change of scenery.
“It’s refreshing to get out of the office, to interact with customers face-to-face,” she says.
Zribi, Reichman and their team are doing a whole lot of interacting. Business is thriving in the Rue du Cherche-Midi. Indeed, Mamma Roma’s first international outing has proven so successful that the company brass in Brussels has announced plans for more Paris locations and even a London restaurant in 2014.