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NEW YORK CITY-The Pita Pit, a Canadian-based restaurant chain specializing in pita sandwiches, is trying to expand here as well as other parts of the country, targeting a US store count goal of 500 units. The company currently has one unit, in the West Village, that it opened earlier this year, and executives, along with brokers William B. May Retail Leasing, are looking for about 10 units in Manhattan and plan to have restaurants throughout the Tri-State area.

Pita Pit, founded in 1995 in Kingston, Ontario, now has about 200 units here and in Canada. Most of the US stores are in college towns, but Ryan Wilkinson, who is heading up the New York-area’s franchising efforts, says that the city is a good fit for the chain because of the many high-traffic areas with large lunch and late-night crowds.

Though Wilkinson is looking for 1,000-sf spaces throughout Manhattan, he says that he, and his two franchisee partners, Brian Armstrong and Joe Mergie, don’t want to expand too quickly. “We’re kind of taking a conservative approach,” he says. Adds Pamela LaDew, William B. May’s senior managing director of retail leasing, “We’re going to do it right. We’re not going to just open to open.”

The Pita Pit menu offers Middle Eastern fare, such as falafels and hummus, but the restaurants also serve food found in most delis, like roast beef and turkey. Wilkinson insists that his company’s concept is different from the typical falafel stands found around New York City. “We have a whole assortment of things,” he says. Wilkinson also says that the company prides itself on its clean restaurants and fast service. “If there’s no one in the store, I can have you out in 50 seconds.”

Successful stores in the chain do sales of about $40,000 per week, Wilkinson says, adding that he is willing to go head-to-head with any quick-service concept in the city. Also, in the chain’s search for locations, Wilkinson and his partners are willing to combine their restaurants into units with other concepts, such as a dessert chain.

Clark Wolf, president of locally based restaurant consulting firm Clark Wolf Co., says the concept seems like a throwback to the 1970s and early 1980s when pitas were popular in the United States. The concept’s expansion could work as long as Pita Pets can cater to a lot of different personalized tastes. “It could be perceived as a hand-held salad,” Wolf says. “It could be a cousin to Quizno’s.”

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