When David Pesso and his brother were thinking about branching out in the restaurant world, they wanted something new and creative. But it was the family recipe book that served as the seed of The Hummus & Pita Co.
"My mother heard us talking and she said, ‘I want to do this, and we can do what we’ve always done,’" said Pesso.
The menu picks and chooses from across the family’s ancestral regions with a hearty nod to the Brooklyn neighborhood where Pesso grew up, itself a smorgasbord of ethnic cuisine.
"We have the benefit of growing up in Brooklyn. In a five block radius of where we lived, there was Turkish, kosher and halal, we wanted to put in everything," said Pesso.
And there is a bit of everything. Chicken and steak cooked in ancient clay ovens, shwarma, Turkish meatballs, falafel and gyros, Moroccan beans, Israeli couscous—all available in pitas, laffa wraps or in a bowl. Then there’s the namesake hummus: classic, tahini, the typical flavors and even three dessert offerings.
Hummus & Pita Co. also taps into the healthy-eating halo and digs deeper into the dietary preferences of the modern eater. Much of the menu is vegetarian, vegan or gluten free. Pesso said they also take allergens seriously, opening up the restaurant to everyone, even those people with medical dietary restrictions.
"It’s for everybody, it’s for people that want to splurge a little bit or be healthy or only spend $7 for a falafel," said Pesso.
With family money and savings behind them, and operational insights from running bagel shops in the past, Pesso and team opened the first location in 2012.
"We decided to do it big, if we could make it there we could make it anywhere. We went to the heart of Chelsea with our best foot forward and we had lines out the door from day one," said Pesso.
Early on, the investors and business prospects came knocking, but with no debt or loans, they didn't really need the help.
"One day, a guy comes in and wants to talk to me and my mother and my brother. He said, ‘I love your concept I love what you’re doing, I bring companies to the public,’" said Pesso.
That man was Dan Rowe, the founder of Fran Smart. Pesso said thanks but no thanks, they had a plan. But the two kept in touch. Pesso’s second location in the financial district got more attention from the who’s who on Wall Street, but he turned them away, too.
"Eventually, we knew we wanted to partner with someone, but not with someone who would just give us money but someone who would help build a great company," said Pesso.
And last year, Rowe came back and brought Greg Golkin, a managing partner at the private equity firm Kitchen Fund. Pesso said there was instant chemistry that fast-tracked the conversation about partnering and franchising.
"We sat down with him and honestly, it was like meeting the mother of my child, I just knew," said Pesso. "This is a Brooklyn thing, we go with our gut."
Eight months later, the ink was drying on a partnership deal with Kitchen fund and Pesso and Golkin were "bosom buddies," working to update the brand and get it ready for what comes next.
"It was side by side, from hiring a branding company to a marketing company, they were fully in every decision, that was something we wanted," said Pesso. "They didn’t force themselves and we didn’t have to pull their teeth."
Soon after the deal was done, Matt Sheppard joined as COO. The former VP of operations at McAlister’s Deli said he is looking forward to some great growth in units and AUVs. The original Chelsea location pulled in $2.15 million and $1,194 per square foot in 2016, the last year available on the company franchise disclosure document. The Financial District location did $1.3 million in sales at $1,457 per square foot and the Midtown location did $1.8 million at $996 per square foot.
Sheppard said he saw those AUVs rising as they got out of high-rent markets.
"First of all, you’re competing with the largest fix costs in the franchising space, rent. And employment takes a larger cost," said Sheppard
He said he’s ready to tackle the data head on and help with the franchise rollout. Already, the company has 20 franchisee agreements in Denver, Connecticut, New Jersey and Detroit. Sheppard said he hopes to open 10 to 12 locations in 2018.
He said it’s been an easy sale so far.
"I feel like we’re in a strategic sweet spot. We kind of check every box, the health side, the attractive stores, it’s craveable, our service is great," said Sheppard. "We like our target."