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Aruba’s close-knit community is reflected in the continued support and patronage of the island’s family businesses.
Many of these family-run businesses have been operating for decades, with several generations taking the wheel and infusing their own touch and creativity into evolving the business to meet the moment along the way. One such cherished family business on the island is Urataka Centre, rooted in our local culture since it opened as Via Urataka Rum Shop in 1946. Currently owned and operated by Rigo Croezesince 2022, he represents the third generation to take the reins of this bar and restaurant that was once owned by his grandfather, Jose “Joe” Croeze, then his father, Gregorio “Doque” Croeze.
Tucked away in a countryside neighbourhood in Santa Cruz, the off-the-beaten-path location was next door to where Rigo’s dad grew up and originally operated as a rum shop. For reference, rum shops have been around for decades and are a part of our cultural fabric, serving as local, walk-up watering holes where friends and strangers alike gather to discuss the day, catch up on local politics, or shoot the breeze around the bar.
In 1990, Rigo’s father took over, adding a full commercial kitchen and an outdoor dining patio. Surprisingly, the restaurant’s now famous and signature item—hand-tossed, Napolitano-style pizza—happened by chance. “My father went to the U.S. to shop for kitchen equipment and was offered a great deal on a second-hand pizzeria kitchen,” Rigo explains, “and then he went to Venezuela where he contracted an Italian-Venezuelan pizza maker to come to Aruba for three months to train the Uratakateam on how to make authentic Italian pizza dough and sauce from scratch.”
Urataka is currently the oldest-running pizzeria on the island. Rigo informs, though, that the recipe has altered from the original one and was perfected into their own over the years. Nineteen years ago, after graduating from hospitality management school, Rigo joined the family business. Until then, Urataka Center’s clientele was mostly locals. “My dad painted it pink, and we were known locally as the ‘pink place in Santa Cruz’” shares Rigo. The restaurant’s location on the meandering road that leads to the main gate of Arikok National Park began to attract visitors to the island. “We started seeing tourists regularly—especially during daytime hours—once the park began gaining popularity,” Rigo informs, “and evenings and weekends are still immensely popular with locals from all over the island, especially for family-style gatherings and groups of friends.” In 2022, Rigo officially took over the family business when his father retired. He has increased the business’s Facebook page to 17k+ followers, sharing weekly specials and deals.
Today, Urataka’s pizzas are still the most popular menu items, but their wings and burgers are also menu stars. The original inside bar now offers local bar snacks like croquets, empanadas, and cheese balls that wash down nicely with an ice-cold cold Balashi. Going forward, Rigo wants to diversify by adding some modern food trends to Urataka’s portfolio. “I want to do fun pizza pop-ups for special occasions like birthdays and wedding events, making the pizza fresh to order on the spot for guests.” Most importantly, while striving for growth, maintaining Urataka’s local-family authenticity and charm is paramount to Rigo.
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