“Get ready in a city near you,” says Dave Pesso, co-founder of The Hummus & Pita Co. The three-unit, New York–based brand has three more restaurants being built in Denver; Brookfield, Connecticut; and Holmdel, New Jersey, right now. Each of these is part of a five-unit deal with a group in the area, with 15 to come in total. The brand also recently signed a five-location franchise deal in Michigan, and plans to open in Troy, Warren, Canton, Detroit, and Ann Arbor. After that, Pesso says they’ll target Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and California. “We’re looking to sell at least 100 locations within 2018,” Pesso says.
The slice of the market that The Hummus & Pita Co. is after? Americanized Mediterranean. “We really believe that hummus and pita now is to America what spaghetti and meatballs or apple pie are,” Pesso says. “Everyone in their refrigerator has hummus and pita today. We wanted the only ethnic part of our brand to be the authenticity of the flavors of our recipes. But we wanted our look and feel to be American, accessible and warm.”
The Hummus & Pita Co. isn’t trying to associate with a single ethnicity. “We wanted to have the best of what our family is, because our family’s background is Greek-, Turkish-, Israeli-American; we’re a mixture of what America is,” Pesso says. “If you come into our place, you’ll see a gyro, which is Greek, next to a shawarma, which is Middle Eastern-Israeli-Palestinian. We have Turkish Salad, Moroccan Beans, Spanish Eggplant, Moroccan carrots, Turkish Meatballs … a mixture of everything. When someone comes to us, they’re not coming for Greek food or Israeli food, they're coming for healthy, delicious, craveable food.”
Pesso’s father, Michael Pesso, was born in Greece and moved to America when he was 13 or 14. His mother, Janice Axelrod, who is also the CEO and cofounder of The Hummus & Pita Co., is American with Eastern European, Jewish, and Israeli heritage. Also involved with The Hummus & Pita Co. is Dave’s sister, Lana Pesso, who works with the company’s menu and brand development, and his brother, Steven Pesso, who is involved in the business development.
“Growing up, we’d have to go two train stops and take a bus to go to a specialty store to buy hummus,” Pesso says. Now, there are aisles and aisles of hummus flavors and brands in groceries. PepsiCo owns Sabra Hummus. The market has shifted in Pesso’s favor.
The family has a financial background. The Pessos worked for Berkshire Financial,the mortgage bank company their mother Axelrod built, which at one point had licenses in around 35 states and 28 locations nationwide. “[My brother Steven and I] did a transition in which we stayed on with the company that bought us in New York,” Pesso says. “After a few years, we wanted to get into something different, some kind of fast food or restaurant. We always kind of had our hand in [the restaurant industry]. In the early ‘90s, we built up some bagel stores and sold them. We really liked it; it was a passion for us.” Dave and Steven set out to find a franchise, but the expos they attended were disappointing; no concepts really popped out to them. So, the family decided to start their own brand, which launched in Chelsea in 2012.
The Hummus & Pita Co.’s New York locations in Chelsea, Tribeca, and 8th Avenue are hits, with lines through the door every day, Pesso says. “I look at my line, I look at the people, and it is such a wide variety: different ethnicities, hipsters, yogis, businessmen, health nuts … people who just love great food,” he says. “Our customers come to us three to four times a week. I have people who come for lunch, then come to get dinner and bring it home. Or, on a Friday, they’ll buy a large tub of hummus and a dozen pita. It’s funny, that reminds me when I had the bagel stores, people would buy a tub of cream cheese and a dozen bagels. Now, people buy hummus and pita.”
The key to The Hummus & Pita Co.’s success, Pesso is quick to note, is authenticity. “We believe in the basics: treat people good,” he says. “Give people rave-able service and craveable food. We’re a family-owned business. We treat our customers as family, and we treat our employees as family. People feel that. Our food is made fresh all day, every day, and it shows.”
To carry over the company’s authentic vibe to its newly franchised locations, Pesso says his team put a lot of time and money in developing a manual and standard operating procedures. Interested franchisees come and do a discovery day at the original Chelsea location. “They watch how we operate, how we work together with our employees and our customers,” Pesso says. The main reason franchisees are attracted to The Hummus & Pita Co., he adds, is the comfortable atmosphere that the restaurants exude, which is created in part by the restaurant’s design. Prototyped for the company’s expansion, the decor is a lot of natural textures, Pesso says. “We have reclaimed wood, brick, stone, and tile. Our colors are brown and beige: very warm, very American.”
But, most of all, Pesso and his family are proud of the authentic-to-their-heritage food they’re serving at The Hummus & Pita Co. Their signature product is made the hard way: “Our hummus is not made from canned chickpeas. We buy them right from the ground. It’s a three day process. We soak them overnight. The next day, we cook them. We refrigerate them. Then we put them in a 60-quart industrial processor,” Pesso says. “I love everything [on the menu]. This is everything I grew up with as a kid.”
Favorite Menu Items
The Hummus & Pita Co. team weighs in.
COO Matthew Sheppard
Shawarma, Spanish Eggplant, and Jalapeno Hummus
“The shawarma, you talk about authenticity, we make it here in house with spices that we import over. It’s just awesome coming off the spit. [For the Spanish Eggplant], I was never a big eggplant guy, but I sampled some at The Hummus & Pita Co. and it’s warm and comforting. Just really good. And you feel good when you eat it too. [The Jalapeno Hummus is] not overly spicy. It’s just perfectly creamy.”
Co-founder Dave Pesso
“I would say my favorite is called Chicken Taboon—chicken breast that’s cooked in a hot clay oven. It’s been around for thousands of years. We put chicken breasts on scores and they sit in the oven and they roast. I love that in a pita with garlic hummus, some Israeli Salad, and harissa hot sauce. And I like to sneak in some falafels, too.”
PR Representative Bridget Cheng
“Is it boring to just say I like the hummus? Dave and Matt both know that I eat it every time I’m there. It is really fresh, authentic, and made well. You can taste the difference between this and the ones bought in store. It’s creamier."