Biz Spotlight: Pita Pit

Article By. George Alberts Photos By. Courtney Pakalolo

We’ve done it again! We found another incredible restaurant that will enlighten your day with a refreshing and unique experience. Located at the edge of San Diego State University, Pita Pit has been serving local residents and students with some of the best quality food since 2003. This was the first of its kind to open in California, and San Diego was lucky enough to be its original home. Last June, Mathew Shaffer and Ed Espinoza assumed ownership of this fine establishment and rekindled the flair that had been lost due to absentee ownership. When I got the chance to sit down with Mat and talk about the franchise, he revealed to me a personal and interesting story that sums up his passion for the business. He also wasn’t shy about expressing his enthusiasm about the company culture and laid back atmosphere, and when I asked him why he got into it, he said, “I love people and being able to connect with them. It’s the customers that make up any restaurant,  and I go out of my way to make sure every customer feels welcome and has fun while eating here!” Mat has invested a lot of himself into this business and it’s reflected in the atmosphere, friendly service, and unbelievable food.

As a public defender in the juvenile division of Broward Criminal Court in Florida, he loved helping people and enjoyed the rush he got from winning cases. However, he eventually became fed up with the amount injustice and futility that existed within the county’s legal system. “What I knew and what I had seen was hard to deal with day-in and day-out,” he said. “The cops patrolled the ghettos for easy arrests, and typically arrested the same kids over and over again over stupid misdemeanor drug offenses. Illegal search and seizures were a commonplace for individuals who were poor and usually black, but almost always, kids were the primary target. Cops always felt they could be verbally and physically abusive towards my clients because they were young. It made me sick to see kids who had been chewed up by police dogs because they had gotten scared and ran from a cop – over a nickel bag of cheap So. Fla. weed or tiny $10 crack rocks! – So many kids were beaten or chased down like dogs and abused, and to make matters worse, the cops were even trained to lie about it in their police reports and depositions, which made it tough to pin them down on the stand.” Walking away from any career can be difficult and sometimes complicated, but that’s exactly what Mat knew he had to do. “It was definitely a complicated decision, but I decided to leave the law because I wanted a gig that was always positive and fun without the drama and futility of fighting with dishonest cops all day.
In this job, I get to connect with people, have fun, and serve them great food!” – A great decision that led to bigger and better things.

Mat and Ed had absolutely NO business experience going into it, but loathed their office incarcerations, which was more than enough for them to take a risk on something new. As graduates of the University of Florida in Gainesville, they loved Pita Pit and knew it was a laid back, progressive franchise that did well on college campuses. “When we talked with Pita Pit Corporate about which franchises were for sale, they mentioned San Diego and it was a no-brainer.” They spent the next 2 months researching and writing a comprehensive business plan only to learn how difficult it is to get a small business loan in America right now, especially for first-time business owners with no prior experience. However, along that same timeline, they had a long, fairly intense negotiation process with the prior owners of the store that lasted almost 6 months – from November of 2009 to May of 2010. Once the deal went through, Mat sold everything he owned, hopped on a plane with his dog Bosco, and headed to Seattle for a 2-week intensive owner training.
“For the last 6 months, I’ve had multiple new experiences as well as many obstacles and challenges, like learning how to run a restaurant for instance. But changing careers for Ed and I was the best thing we could have done; it enabled access to a great opportunity.”

Over the years, this franchise has grown to 25 stores in California alone; this is attributed to people like Mat and Ed, who are motivated by the idea of filling that unhealthy void with something better for those who need it, want it, and crave it. Pita Pit serves some of the freshest food in town. They use locally grown veggies, incredible unique sauces, and hand prep everything, including their meats and deli cuts. These pitas are filled with fresh and healthy ingredients without the extra “healthy” cost. This alone decimates the $5 Footlong trend that is stuffed with nothing but the processed junk you originally tried to avoid from the start. “We really want people to understand what we make here. Our pitas are delicious, they fill you up, and have a lot less calories and fat than a burger and fries,” Mat expressed. “I really want customers to have a unique and genuine experience when they come here, and we want customers to take it all in.”

This colorful, college-friendly joint has a simple, clean layout with great, friendly customer service with the owner right behind the counter ready to get you started. With mellow tunes always in play, it’s a very inviting atmosphere where stoned-hungry students or locals can chill and enjoy a wholesome meal. – You’ll love every aspect of this place! One unique characteristic that put a smile on my face was the artistic display of edgy vegetables decked out in tribal gear and war paint who are caught up in the peace pipe mood. They had the right idea, but I didn’t need a bowl to work up an appetite after seeing an employee put the finishing touches on an overstuffed pita.

This being my first Pita Pit experience, I didn’t know what to try because everything on the menu sounded satisfying to my appetite. Mat recommended the Bosco, which is a philly cheesesteak sandwich with pita flair. Named after his lovable dog/mascot, this puppy was stuffed with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, peperoncinis, and cheddar cheese with a little chipotle sauce to finish it off. I also opted to get a little lettuce and tomatoes thrown into the mix. The thin steak, mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, peperoncinis, and cheddar cheese were grilled together, sealing up all the flavors and making the first bite extremely mouth-watering! The lettuce and tomatoes I added were a great accolade to the chipotle sauce and steak, giving the pita a fresh, crisp taste. The pita bread was the pride and joy of this masterpiece because it was thin and light, and didn’t disrupt the serious flavor. I loved and appreciated every bite. I’m a philly fan, and I have to say that this was one of my better experiences because this unique philly didn’t have that uncomfortable, greasy flavor or aftertaste that usually lingers after you’re finished. – I highly recommend the Bosco!

With just a little more room left, I decided to try their roast beef pita. Now, you can build it up any way you want, but I chose to load it with onions, BBQ sauce, spinach, and tomatoes, which turned out to be a pretty good combination for the thin slices of grilled roast beef. The taste was delectable. I was afraid that the BBQ sauce would overwhelm the other ingredients, but it turned out to be a great tangy addition, tying everything together. This restaurant has a pretty fresh advantage over the competition because their veggies really build up their pitas with that refreshing, crisp taste that other sandwich places promise, but never deliver.

Pita Pit has redesigned the way we eat. Thriving off the college culture, it introduces a culture of its own with fresh ingredients and a fun atmosphere. The food is always fresh and it’s a much better option than that burger joint on the corner you submit to because of its convenience. Mat makes a great effort in catering to the college community with late night dining, free local delivers, online ordering, on-campus promotions and discounts for SDSU employees, and art appreciation specials. “I like showing customers that I appreciate their business because without them I wouldn’t be here enjoying what it is that I’m doing,” he said. The food here is great; they don’t skimp on ingredients or the friendly, fast service. If you’re looking for a fresh food fix or a healthier option, then Pita Pit is the place for you; I promise you won’t be disappointed!

bringing you that fire! stay tune for more posts.

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