PITA Mediterranean Street Food recently opened a location at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and two Atlanta food halls. Now Nour Rabai, CEO of the fast-casual chain, is encouraging his franchisees to expand into more nontraditional venues.
One franchisee is heeding his advice and plans to open PITA locations at six colleges in the Southeast, covering Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama and Florida. Rabai wouldn’t reveal the names of the specific schools, but says the openings are scheduled for mid-2022.
PITA follows in the footsteps of several restaurant concepts that see colleges, stadiums and other noncommercial sites as a growth opportunity.
Fast casual Modern Market recently launched at the University of Notre Dame, Chicago’s Cornerstone Restaurant Group is planning five concepts for Purdue University’s remodeled student union building and Jersey Mike’s opened a branded ghost kitchen at Rider University.
“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,” Rabai says. The cost of opening on college campuses can be 25% lower that it would be to open a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant, he says.
Additionally, labor costs are lower, as there’s no need for front-of-house staff—the university provides a cashier in most cases. There’s also a savings on marketing fees and equipment costs, as back-of-house kitchen space is shared.
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 says. “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 says. The Mediterranean items use halal ingredients and boast a health halo. But with a smaller footprint and the shared kitchen space, the menu has to be streamlined a bit for the concession-style locations.
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. Aramark, the foodservice provider for some of these Southeastern colleges, may want to shrink or expand the menu, he says.
Ticket time is also a consideration. “Students have a limited time to order and dine, and the shared kitchen space can challenge timing,” Rabai says. Although PITA is putting forth a major effort to grow the college and stadium concession-style model, the chain is not abandoning franchised brick-and-mortar stores.
But there’s one type of concept Rabai won’t support: a ghost kitchen. “I am not a believer,” he says. “Ghost kitchens are not a profitable venture for the long run.”