By Mike Pearson, News staff
Be the Boss Canada winner Erin Graszat is building on the success of her reality TV appearance with a new Pita Pit franchise in Winona.
On the W Network reality show, Graszat, 21, completed a smoothie challenge and a lunch program for a Kingston, Ont. elementary school. Her one-hour episode aired more than three months ago, but the East Mountain resident can still barely contain her excitement.
“The whole experience was kind of overwhelming. I’ve never really done anything like that before,” said Graszat. “The final outcome is still unbelievable.”
Slated to open next year as part of a Fifty Road commercial development, Graszat’s new franchise will join more than 170 Canadian Pita Pit locations, and 500 restaurants worldwide.
Graszat is currently the operator of the Stone Church Road Pita Pit location owned by Rob Anderson.
On the TV show, Graszat completed a smoothie challenge and a lunch program challenge for a Kingston, Ont. elementary school. She utilized her keen leadership skills while working with new faces in an unfamiliar seting.
“We Had to do 200 pitas in two hours, so it was very overwhelming. But we got it all done in time,” she said.
Anderson, who nominated Graszat for the show, took pride in his employee’s success.
“It’s such an awesome thing for the whole executive team to see,” he said.
Graszat has worked at Anderson’s Stone Church Road location for three years. As a franchisee, she will have many of the same responsibilities she now oversees as an operator, such as hiring and ordering.
When it came to settling on her franchise location, Graszat wasn’t limited by geography. She could have opened a store in Toronto, but chose to remain close to home.
“I looked everywhere and I love Hamilton; I love Stoney Creek. I feel at home here,” she said.
Pita Pit co-founder Nelson Lang visited the Stone Church location last week after the store won a national fundraising challenge.
Pita Pit has partnered with Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart Program. The campaign raises money to help children from low-income families compete in organized sports. Customers at the Stone Church Road location raised $9,000 and Anderson added an additional $3,000.
“It’s a charity that’s very close to my heart,” said Lang. The Kingston area native also commended Tim Hortons’ summer camp program for its positive impact on underprivleged youth.
Lang and a partner opened the first Pita Pit location in Kingston in 1995 and quickly discovered a recipe for success. In recent years the company has opened franchises in India, France, the U.K. and as far away as Brazil and New Zealand. Close to 300 locations can now be found in the U.S.
Capitalizing on customers’ desires for healthier fast food alternatives, Pita Pit’s menu includes low calorie, low fat and reduced sodium choices.
The restaurant offers 12 pitas under 500 calories. Lang said Pita Pit has benefited from tougher nutrition standards enacted by many Ontario school boards. Instead of pizza days or hot dog days, many schools are offering Pita Pit products as healthier lunch options.
When opening new franchises, Lang focused on college and university towns before branching out into bigger cities.
In the U.S. that meant expanding into Lincoln, Nebraska before Chicago, Illinois.
“We hit the smaller markets where the rents were lower,” said Lang.
Pita Pit’s corporate head office remains in Lang’s home town of Kingston.