The man who ate Lincoln Rd ran into one of the great legends of fast food franchising in New Zealand when I had lunch at a fast food franchise on Wednesday. "I was just thinking of you!", said Mary Lambie, as we saw each other across a crowded buffet counter at Pita Pit.
She explained that it just wasn't possible to drive along Lincoln Rd without thinking of the man who ate Lincoln Rd. No doubt this is true of many motorists. For my part I always think of Mary whenever I see a Subway. She was one of the best presenters - perhaps the best - of Good Morning. And yet she turned her back on broadcasting, and took over a Subway franchise. She owned and operated three stores, all successfully; it's rare for a TV showpony to do well in business, and I admired her resourcefulness, her determination, her commitment to selling Subways, which I don't like much.
I've never much liked Pita Pit, either. It makes a song and dance over something that essentially is just a toasted sandwich. Plus I got sick of hearing about it during the 2016 season of The Block. Sponsoring the show was an inspired idea but repeated shots of the blockheads forcing down yet another platter of pita was a pitiful spectacle.
The Lincoln Rd store is wallpapered with posters of the show. The menu above the counter is even more of a headache to look at. It doesn't make a lick of sense. The lay-out of pictures as sub-headings confuse the simple issue of what's on sale and for how much; worse, some genius at head office obviously decided it would be a fantastic idea to baffle customers by including long numbers alongside meals. Apparently they measure calories. Who cares?
I ordered a petite pita, also known as a pitata, with steak, mushrooms, red onions, green pepper, and cucumber for $10.50. The steak and mushrooms were cooked together on a hot plate. Together the hot and raw ingredients held hands and danced a merry jig all around my mouth. What I'm saying is that everything about that pitata was absolutely delicious. The taste remained in my mouth all afternoon.
Mary ordered something with chicken in it. It was her very first meal at Pita Pit. Fascinating to watch a franchise veteran approach her virgin pita. She studied it. "I like the wrapping," she announced. Pita Pit do a simple paper wrap inside a napkin. Subway, she thought, overdid the packaging. She chowed down happily, but had reservations about the "difficult ending". She's right. The pita kind of crumbles and collapses near the end. In sum, she liked it a lot, although wondered about the price. Subway do a similar meal cheaper, she said.
Our learned, serious analysis of all things pita no doubt had Steve Mason's ears burning. I got talking to the owner-operator of the Lincoln Rd store after Mary left. We shook hands. "Steve," he said. "Steve," I said. "Oh, I know who you are," he said.
We had a long talk. He's a westie of Huapai, 42 years old, someone who values hard work and community spirit. He was fervent about the land of opportunity. "The first time I came out to Lincoln Rd," he said, sounding like Brigham Young leading the historic expedition of Mormons to Utah in 1847, "I knew that this is where I wanted to be."
The church of pita on Lincoln Rd is clean, bright, cheerful. It's got a kid's corner with a TV (Despicable Me 2 was playing on Wednesday) and crayons. Shame about the menu and the posters of knobs from The Block, but I loved that pitata.
•All views expressed are the author's.