Pita Pit's expansion rests with franchisees

By Colin Taylor

Franchisor Chris Henderson outside his flagship Pita Pit at Takapuna Beach. Photo / Supplied
Franchisor Chris Henderson outside his flagship Pita Pit at Takapuna Beach. Photo / Supplied

Pita Pit is looking to further expand its outlets throughout New Zealand and is interested in hearing from potential owner/operators who would like to set up a business offering fresh, nutritious and tasty food in their home towns or suburbs.

Franchisees are being sought by James Sheppard, a franchising broker with Affiliated Business Consultants in Auckland, who says Pita Pit is an "international quick casual restaurant success story" with more than 350 stores after only 12 years of franchising.

"Prime territories are still available nationwide," Sheppard says. "Newmarket, which opened last month at 123 Carlton Gore Rd, was the 18th Pita Pit to open in New Zealand and the eighth to open in 2011. A number are now operating in Auckland with other outlets opened in Hamilton (Te Rapa), New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill.

"And new stores are also set to open in Wellington, West Auckland, East Auckland, Tauranga and Taupo."

Pita Pit was founded in Canada in 1995 by John Sotiriadis and Nelson Lang with a goal of offering quality, healthy and fresh food - served fast. They were convinced the time was right to introduce a fresh, healthy alternative to traditional high-fat, high-carb, high-calorie fast foods.

The first Pita Pit was opened in 1995 in the university town of Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and was an immediate success. The Lebanese-style pita sandwiches packed with fresh veggies, grilled meats and zesty sauces were an instant hit with college and university students, especially since the store stayed open late - well into the wee hours of the morning, making it perfect for students taking a break from studying or coming home after a night of partying. Within two years, franchised stores had begun opening across Canada. Two years later, they were opening in the US where the concept took off immediately with consumers of all ages.

The New Zealand Pita Pit story started with Kiwi Chris Henderson who became a regular customer at his local Pita Pit in Mammoth Lakes, California, where he was working as a ski instructor. He loved Pita Pit so much he visited its head office in Ontario then set up the New Zealand operation with his friend and business partner, Duane Dalton. Their first restaurant was opened in August 2007 in Takapuna Beach, Auckland, making more than 2000 pitas a week and still growing.

Their company has the master franchise licence for New Zealand governing who can own and operate Pita Pit outlets. Other countries outside of North America with current master franchise licences are Panama, South Korea and Brazil with inquiries made into many other countries.

Sheppard says new franchises vary in price due to a range of factors like the size of the site, fit-out costs and landlord contributions. Investment typically begins from about $275,000 plus GST.

"The investment gives a franchisee the right to open their own store which the Pita Pit master franchisor will fit out within an existing or new building. If someone suggests a site where they would like to set up a Pita Pit, the franchisor will assist them to see if it's likely to be viable."

Sheppard says he has yet to handle the resale of a Pita Pit outlet "because all the franchisees are happy and don't want to sell".

New franchisees receive an assistance package covering site selection, opening of the store and ongoing support, draft lease agreements, operations manuals, comprehensive training and an exclusive franchise territory.

The market strengths of Pita Pit in comparison with other fast food outlets are given as being its healthy, low-carbohydrate and low-cost products, a quick service average of 90 seconds preparation, extended operating hours and its popularity among working professionals and students "who care about what they eat".

Sheppard says another strength of Pita Pit is its franchisees who come from diverse backgrounds. They include the former country manager of a leading insurance company, the former general manager of one of the country's largest motor vehicle dealerships, a member of a business mentoring programme, franchise owners of other systems, top ranking former police officers and some former national sports people.

- NZ Herald

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