A few weeks ago, in this article, we wrote about Golositalia, a multifaceted Italian restaurant that over the years has become the meeting point of the Italian community in Dubai, thanks to the typical atmosphere of an Italian cafe and to a wide range of genuine, high-quality italian products: coffee, pizza, typical Sicilian sweets. Today INDiplomacy interviews the founder of Golositalia, Sebastiano Maio, a resourceful pastry chef who was able, with inventiveness and courage, to successfully export Italian gastronomic culture abroad.
A few weeks ago Golositalia, the restaurant that you founded and that has become the meeting point of the Italian community in Dubai, celebrated its 8th year of activity. Can you guide us through the most significant moments of your experience outside Italy?
First of all, good morning to all the readers of INDiplomacy! About 9 years ago, in October 2011, I was considering the idea of leaving Sicily. I wanted to try an adventure abroad. I saw that tourists liked Sicilian products, and I thought – why not bring Sicily directly to their homes? So I decided to go to Dubai on a ten-day vacation to explore the city and see if it might be a good idea to start a business there.
Initial impressions were immediately very positive. On the last day in Dubai, before returning to Italy, I had a meeting right next to the building where I would have opened the first Golositalia. It was love at first sight. After the meeting, I decided that Dubai could be my new home. When I communicated the decision to my family, they called me crazy. In April 2012, however, I moved to the United Arab Emirates. After a long period of waiting, finally on May 5, 2013 Golositalia opened its doors to the public (the choice of May 5 is not accidental, for those who follow football and like me have a passion for Juventus, it will be easy to understand).
The adventure didn’t start the way I had expected: at first, things didn’t go very well. Unlike in Europe, here when a newplace opens, people are not immediatly attracted to it. I was unsure whether to go ahead or give up everything and go back to Italy. The following spring, however, I decided to change, not to stick to Sicilian pastry only and to broaden the offer instead.
I closed my business in the summer and in September I launched a “new” Golositalia, with a new logo and a wider offer, a complete restaurant menu. Later, I also added a pizza oven. From that moment on, Golositalia began to grow steadily, until it became a meeting point for the Italian community in Dubai, but also a brand recognized by many foreigners, who made it their favorite Italian place.
Why did you choose Dubai to open Golositalia and what were the biggest difficulties you had to face there?
Dubai was chosen by chance. I had heard about the place from a friend of my sister, who had recently moved there and liked it very much. Hence the decision to take a business holiday.
The first difficulty I faced was the English language, since my level was barely sufficient. Once Golositalia opened, the greatest difficulty was to make customers understand our products: Sicilian granita or artisan panettone are not so well known abroad. Today, one of the most beautiful moments at work is when a customer enters the shop with a photo of the Sicilian granita and croissant (the one with the tuppo on top) and tells me: “I want this one”.
The idea of recreating the atmosphere of the classic Italian cafe in Dubai was successful in your case, why?
I could answer with another question: when you go out to eat, do you prefer a luxurious place that is very expensive and offers medium quality food, or a place that is more easy-going but with an excellent price/quality ratio?
When I first arrived in Dubai, I saw that luxury is the standard in the city. I told myself that my goal was to have regular costumers, just like the “cafe at the corner”. Since I consider myself a very simple person, I thought that simplicity was the best choice for Golositalia, and the choice that perhaps suited me most. It was a winning choice because while choosing a simple location, we invested in the quality of the product and combined it with a fair price. Everyone likes luxurious places, but when people go out to dinner, food remains the main protagonist.
Golositalia also offers catering services in the United Arab Emirates: which Italian dishes do Emiratis and the international community living in Dubai like the most?
Usually, when people turn to an Italian caterer they do it with great trust: Italian cuisine is highly respected abroad, and therefore customers often rely on us completely. Generally the most requested products are lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, Sicilian arancini, and our pizza al taglio, which is prepared by our chef, pizza maker and also manager Alessio Alioto. I want to underline that Alessio is two times world champion of spicy pizza: in short, he knows what he is doing.
Let’s talk about the month of Ramadan: did you have to change your menu?
Not particularly. The menu has always remained the same. The thing that changed in 2021 is that while until last year during the month of Ramadan we had to put curtains on the windows of the restaurant to prevent customers from being visible from outside, this year the curtains were no longer necessary. However, the ban on serving outside tables remained.
What do you feel like saying to the many young Italians who think about moving to Dubai to make their dreams come true?
What I want to say to young people in general is: study and specialize. Whatever job you have in mind to do, work to become the best, otherwise you will remain a number. This is what I will explain to my daughters as soon as they grow up: it is not important what you want to do, the important thing is to commit yourself and become very good at it.
Specifically to young Italian, I would say: study foreign languages , learn and then move abroad having already set out a plan. At that point, with more or less difficulty, you will find your way. This is a country where meritocracy exists. If you want to leave Italy to seek your fortune without specializations and a precise plan, Dubai is not the destination that I would recommend.
You have always kept strong Italian roots. Are you homesick for Italy, do you think that one day you might come back?
HI feel homesick, every now and then. More than Italy itself. I miss sensations, moments, emotions. I am and I feel 100% Italian, but I believe that living in Italy today is not exactly the best. For me Italy is the most beautiful nation in the world, from north to south, we have a huge heritage in terms of art, history, culture. We are also lucky in terms of climate and geographical position. But following the events of the country from abroad and therefore with perhaps a more objective eye, I can say that returning to live there at the moment is not one of my priorities.