PITA Mediterranean Street Food is encouraging its franchisees to expand by opening concession-style venues in colleges and stadiums.
Last year, the 38-unit fast casual launched locations at Mercedes Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons football team, and two Atlanta food halls.
“We discovered that the cost of operations is much lower at these types of locations and there is a huge benefit to the daily traffic that these locations bring,” said CEO Nour Rabai. The cost of opening in these nontraditional venues can be 25% lower that it would be to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, he said.
Additionally, labor costs are lower, as there’s no need for FOH staff—the university provides a cashier in most cases. There’s also a savings on marketing fees and equipment costs, as the BOH kitchen space is shared.
Those benefits are particularly attractive to franchisees. Atlanta-based PITA has signed one franchisee to a college campus deal at six schools in the Southeast, covering Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida and Alabama. The openings are scheduled for mid-2022, Rabai said.
Pre-pandemic, Rabai was touting the benefits of college locations to franchisees but put a temporary hold on the plan. “Now that schools are fully opening up again and students are going back for fall semester, the opportunity is there,” he said. “Many universities enroll 20,000 to 25,000 students who eat at least five days a week on campus. This not only drives traffic, it gives us brand recognition with a large group.”
PITA’s menu is also a draw for the college demographic, Rabai said. The Mediterranean items use halal ingredients and boast a health halo. But the concession-style locations have a smaller footprint and shared kitchen space, which means the menu has to be streamlined a bit.
The No. 1 seller is the chain’s gyro, followed by chicken shawarma and falafel. These can all be ordered as street pita or platter.
These core menu items will all be included and others can be added, depending on the size of the unit and vendors available. Franchisees often have to work with a school’s foodservice provider as well, such as Sodexo or Aramark, and that contractor may want to shrink or expand the menu.
Ticket time is also a consideration. “Students have a limited time to order and dine, and the shared kitchen space can challenge timing,” said Rabai.
Although PITA is putting forth a major effort to grow college and stadium concession-style models, the chain is not abandoning traditional stores. “We have more than 50 units signed in the pipeline, slated to open in 2022 and 2023, and the majority are brick and mortar,” said Rabai.
But one type of concept he won’t support is a ghost kitchen. “I am not a believer,” Rabai said. “Ghost kitchens are not a profitable venture for the long run.”
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