Over the last several weeks, Pita Pit’s vice president of marketing, Doug Reifschneider, has uprooted his life in Jacksonville, Florida, to settle in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Now situated near the pita-pushing quick serve’s headquarters, he owns a new house full of unopened boxes. In more ways than one, he’s starting over.
Reifschneider most recently served as Firehouse Subs’ vice president of marketing and brand management for nearly 11 years, helping grow the sandwich concept from about 200 units to more than 1,000 in 43 states.
He says he didn’t join Firehouse specifically to boost growth, but that increasing the sales of individual stores benefitted franchisees and built growth organically. As he returns to a concept with fewer than 300 units nationwide, Reifschneider says he hopes to use his experience from Firehouse while approaching Pita Pit as a distinct challenge.
“There’s plenty of work here to be done, but I believe I can bring the education, experience, and insights to ask questions that might not have been asked before,“ he says. “At Pita Pit, I’m coming in with eyes wide open, trying to help grow the brand with one voice, one app, one website, and so on.”
Beyond similarities in size between Pita Pit and Firehouse at the start of Reifschneider’s tenure, he says the overlap he’s noticed between the companies is “uncanny.” He says many thoughts about the restaurant’s Mediterranean-influenced menu—its look, content, language, and size—mirror what he heard at Firehouse. Mini pitas, for another example, are similar to his old employer’s miniature subs.
Reifschneider says Pita Pit is toying with a revamped menu, and much of his effort will be focused on communicating that new vision to first-time and returning customers.
Part of that task is unifying Pita Pit’s digital presence, which is somewhat scattered. Some franchisees have attempted to create their own apps and websites, and Reifschneider hopes to clean up that desynchronized communication.
While consolidating the brand’s digital marketing approach is essential—that, plus the existence of an intuitive online ordering system and an engaging customer loyalty program—Reifschneider emphasizes food quality.
Naturally, the menu is something he wants to streamline, too.
“Before I was a Firehouse person, I went to Subway occasionally,” he says. “Years ago, I went in to try their new Sweet Chicken Teriyaki sub, and the person that was slicing the bread asked what I wanted on it. My thought was, ‘I want what’s in the picture, you tell me what I want on it.’”
Reifschneider thinks that same confusion might be affecting Pita Pit customers.
Pitas are unique in the quick-service sector, and many people might not know what ingredients go well together. To counter that problem, Pita Pit is testing between eight and 16 set pita recipes. Customers who prefer to build their own sandwich will still have that option, but customers who might be scared away by indecision will receive something like a pita template to get started.
Beyond building a more accessible menu and synchronizing Pita Pit’s digital stack, Reifschneider says he’s still looking for his new product’s “secret sauce.” He says that while many think, “healthy,” when Pita Pit is mentioned, health is a difficult concept to monopolize.
“I think ‘healthy’ is one of those ubiquitous, overused words that’s hard to own. For instance, every restaurant thinks they have quality food. You start talking about quality, well, prove it,” Reifschneider says. “How do you quantify quality when it means different things to different people? It’s the same with health.”
So despite the fresh vegetables that line Pita Pit restaurants’ make tables, Reifschneider is searching for a novel selling point. He says the pieces are all there, they just require rearranging and perhaps some polishing.
After research, though, comes implementation, and Pita Pit’s newest vice president will have to figure out how to market to a web of restaurants spread over 43 states, the same number that Firehouse covered with four times as many units at the time of Reifschneider’s departure.
As he admitted, there’s work to be done. Luckily for Pita Pit, Reifschneider has been in this position before.