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7-10-2014 8-52-05 PM

The Man With The Pita Plan


When John Sotiriadis and Nelson Lang first opened The Pita Pit in 1995 near Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, they may not have figured that 16 years later, they would be on their way to bringing the pita sandwich to the Far East.

The Pita Pit brand was launched worldwide by Pita Pit International in 2005, and at present, there are about 300 Pita Pit’s around the U.S. and Canada. Along with Korea, the quick service sandwich shop is eyeing expansion in other markets in New Zealand, Australia, and Panama.

In 2009, it was ranked #1 in its category on the Franchise 500 list, of Restaurant Business Magazine’s ranking of the best and fastest-growing small chains. The Pita Pit also ranked #105 in global franchise opportunities in Entrepreneurs Magazine’s 2011 listing.

The Pita Pit has become successful due to their fresh and health conscious made-to-order menu, such as vegetarian pitas, meat pitas, gyros, souvlakis and falafels. Their fresh thinking, healthy eating motto and convenient store hours made it a huge hit with the college crowd in North America, allowing them to expand rapidly and introduce a healthier alternative to traditional high-fat, high-carb, high-calorie fast foods.

This spring, Koreans will be able to experience The Pita Pit, courtesy of Ko Tae-kaun, the man bringing the restaurant to Korea. The first store will open in the Jong-ro 2 ga area in Seoul between the YBM and PAGODA English Institute. Ko’s plans are to open three to five stores in Seoul and the suburban area (Bundang & Ilsan) in the first year.

Their second year is when he is hoping for a more rapid expansion, to about 20 to 40 stores. And, as Ko told Busan Haps Magazine, locations in Busan are in the works.

We have a plan to open The Pita Pit in Busan by the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012, he said.

Ko decided to bring The Pita Pit to Korea, when he tried and then fell in love with the pita sandwich two years ago on a trip to Mammoth Mountain, California. As Koreans tend to favor a healthy eating lifestyle, The Pita Pit’s concept of offering a healthier alternative to deep fried and microwaved fast food fits well here, and he’s hoping the sandwiches will catch on and become the latest food craze on the peninsula.

Koreans love to enjoy fresh food and take care of themselves. We think The Pita Pit will fit (well with) the young Korean generation, he said.

While they plan to target health-conscious young women between the ages of 20 to 35, they also hope to keep the prices similar or cheaper to those found in North America, a concept many franchisees of western food here tend to neglect.

Though winning over the customers is not always easy, one of the most popular ways for a western food craze to become popular in Korea is simple: win over the food bloggers.

Young Koreans are always looking for the next food craze, and Korean food bloggers and sites like matzib.com have made everything from pasta, donuts, waffles, Turkish kebabs, brunch, and coffee shops a must try over the years. While they may not always be authentic to the food’s original taste and style, they have influenced restaurateurs to branch out from traditional Korean foods to try something new.

Franchisers have been jumping at the chance to enter the Asian markets recently, and Korea has proven to be a solid testing ground. As Koreans crave trendy, upscale Western brands and products, as well as new international foods, the time is right for western brands to make their inroads into the country.

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About Jeff Liebsch

Jeff Liebsch has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Eurobasket, Tribal Football and Yonhap News. He can be followed on Twitter at @chevybusan.

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