Nelson Lang Rolled the First Pita, Then Created a Monster

June 11th, 2012

When was the last time you had a great idea?

What did you do with that idea?

Most of us come up with a bevy of excuses very valid reasons why our “great” idea won’t work. However, Nelson Lang is not most of us. In 1995, at the ripe old age of 26, Nelson rolled the very first pita for his brand new concept, the Pita Pit. “It became too hard to make money in pizza,” Nelson remarked, “there were too many pizza chains from the U.S. coming north. Nobody was doing anything like Pita Pit.”

For years, Nelson was a pizza man. First learning the trade working at a pizza joint all through high school, Nelson parlayed that experience into opening his own pizza place when he was only 22 years old (a pizza place that’s still open by the way).

But making and selling pizzas in eastern Canada just wasn’t doing it for Nelson anymore. So late one night, Nelson and his soon-to-be partner John Sotiriadis hatched a plan to introduce a new kind of sandwich to the folks at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. And their new kind of sandwich was, in fact, a very old kind of sandwich.

Nelson and John each ponied up $8,000 and Pita Pit was born. They opened their first store in a 243 sq. ft. space on the main street in Kingston. It took Nelson and John two months of working open to close to get their first $1,000 sales day. But it was that hard work that gave them a true appreciation of every dollar that walked through their door.

The second store to open under the Pita Pit moniker was built for a significant financial increase over the original store – $40,000. And seeing success there, they had a new goal – 10 stores in 10 years. They figured if they were diligent, they could continue to open new stores at a modest, realistic pace and continue the success they were beginning to see.

Cut to 10 years later: Pita Pits has over 200 locations scattered across the U.S. and Canada. “We thought 10 stores wasn’t just doable, we thought it represented massive success, so that was our goal,” Nelson explained. “When you only have one restaurant, the idea of having 10 is amazing.”

Today there are nearly 400 Pita Pits, not just in North America but as far away as South Korea, New Zealand, and Brazil.

“It’s amazing…every time a new Pita Pit opens in a different country, I just can’t believe how far we’ve come in such a short time.”

And as Pita Pit continues its steady march across the globe, Nelson can’t help but think back to a time when he was just getting started, before Pita Pit was a growing, global phenomenon, and look forward to the future that is being forged by the juggernaut that continues to surprise even him.

Peter Riggs