Running our own restaurant was both fun and scary. There were rough patches, but we overcame a lot. It kept us busy, but compared to social work, it was a different kind of busy. It was easier on my spirit. We bought it in 2000 and sold it in 2004.
As I was on the road all the time doing sales, I would eat lunch at drive-thrus. It was unhealthy. In fact, two years ago, I was 60 pounds overweight! So, I started eating healthier.
This included stopping at one of Fredericton’s two Pita Pit restaurants. I liked that it wasn’t a ‘me-too’ concept. In terms of the choice of what they offer, especially vegetables, there’s no competition. With all of the combinations, you could go there five times a week and eat differently each time.
I noticed they always had customers lined up from the door at lunchtime. And as I was going back there every week, I would keep seeing this lineup. Meanwhile, I was losing the weight.
After my experiences in Fredericton, I saw another, newer location in Saint John, N.B. It had just opened, but was packed with customers the first week.
Pita Pit had been around since 1995, starting in Kingston, Ont., and gradually moving east. That pattern has been true of a lot of Canadian quick-service restaurant (QSR) chains. It takes a while to get out here, where we’re so small population-wise.
The franchise had a hip, new-wave look and an exciting atmosphere, with the sounds of smoothies being blended and a lot of interaction between staff and customers. Most restaurants seem to have little input from their customers, but here, the staff needed to be in constant communication to customize the orders.
It was a bit of a show, a spectacle; it wasn’t just about the eating. There was music playing and there were cartoon characters on the walls.
I decided to apply for a franchise in Moncton. I had also looked at other franchise systems and was surprised by the royalties charged by the franchisors. Unlike most of those companies, Pita Pit has fixed royalties, so you’re not penalized for doing your best, i.e. by having to pay more royalties if you make more money.
I ended up buying the rights for all of Greater Moncton, including Riverview and Dieppe. When I went to a one-day learning session in Toronto with existing franchisees, I noticed a lot of them ran multiple locations. They said the franchise system was so much better than other QSRs. These were strong testimonials.
Another reason to buy up the rights to a whole area is to block other new franchisees out, so they can’t just come into your territory and profit on top of the hard work you’ve already done. One prospective franchisee from Fredericton is planning to open his restaurant in St. John’s, N.L., as that’s one of the markets still open in Atlantic Canada.
Pita Pit has more than 425 stores in eight countries. The system is only going to get bigger and better.
Nathan had gathered all of the information about Pita Pit when we talked about it. We had already discussed getting into a new business. It’s a partnership and a team effort.
Together, we went and looked at the existing franchises in Fredericton and Saint John. This helped make me comfortable moving forward with the business. It would be easier than what we’d gone through in the past.
Lots of people are moving to Moncton these days, so more businesses are opening. Also, people are more conscious about what they eat.