Norfolk, VA: Pita Pit Eyes Nontraditional Growth

Pita Pit has a food truck at the Navy Base in Norfolk, VA.

By Lisa Jennings |

Pita Pit has a food truck at the Navy Base in Norfolk, VA.
Pita Pit has a food truck at the Navy Base in Norfolk, VA.

The sandwich chain Pita Pit is making a push into nontraditional growth with the opening of units in a mobile trailer on a Navy base and in a Colorado convenience store.

The Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based chain offering portable pita bread sandwiches, soups and salads traditionally opens in 1,200- to 1,500-foot spaces in shopping centers or urban areas.

This year, however, the brand began exploring less traditional opportunities that will increase franchisee interest in the brand, said Corey Bowman, vice president of franchise development for Pita Pit USA, parent to the mostly franchised chain, which has more than 350 locations in North America.

In November, Pita Pit opened in a 20-foot trailer on the campus of a Navy base in Norfolk, Va. The base’s retail mall had no space available in the food court, so franchisee Buzz Crown decided to experiment with a mobile location that could move around the campus.

Crown said he has an agreement to open three Pita Pit locations in the Norfolk area, and now he’s working with the city to seek approval for food truck operations with the goal of doing more mobile Pita Pit units. “We don’t know where it will take us,” said Crown of the trailer experiment. “But there’s definitely interest here in the idea of fresh, healthy food, as opposed to more traditional fast food.”

Bowman of Pita Pit said he hopes success in Norfolk will lead to growth for the chain on other Navy bases in the U.S. or around the world. “The advantage of doing mobile units like this is that we wouldn’t have to wait for space to open up,” he said.

Meanwhile, another franchisee in Colorado Springs, Colo., is experimenting with a drive thru Pita Pit outlet inside a gas station convenience store.

The unit, which opened about two weeks ago, is the first convenience store location for Pita Pit, though competitors such as Subway and Quiznos have long been building C-store units.

Bowman said two other Pita Pit C-store outlets are planned in Michigan and Ohio.

Pita Pit is already on several college campuses, and Bowman said the next move is to break into airports and sports stadiums, but competition is tough to win such contracts.

“We have a strong desire and we think we’d do well in airports and stadiums,” said Bowman. “But when you’re going up against the big boys, it’s a challenge.”

Pita Pit was founded in Canada in 1995, and the chain moved into the U.S. in 1999. Bowman was one of the first franchisees to grow the brand in the U.S., and he later joined an investment group that acquired the brand from its Canadian founders in 2005.

“We felt it could go to the next level but that we would need to take control of the brand in the U.S. and build an operating and franchising system around it,” he said.

With about 200 locations in the U.S., Pita Pit USA is expecting to see about 50 locations open in 2013, most of which will be traditional units.