Courtesy of Dave Pennington

Once again, Rochester has proven itself a city of national repute. To a list of accolades that includes nineteenth most romantic city, sixth most livable city, and third best place to raise a family, add front runner for best Pita Pit in the country.

The Pita Pit restaurant at 1100 Jefferson Road in Henrietta is among the final eight in the first annual Battle of the Pita Pits, a Facebook contest between the company’s  many locations, which number over 300 nationwide.

Founded in 1995, the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based company touts a menu focused on grilled meats, crisp greens, tangy dressings, and, of course, freshly baked pitas.

According to Vice President of Brand Promotion Peter Riggs, the goal of the contest is “to show which Pita Pit is the best Pita Pit in the country.”

Beginning his own career as a Pita Pit franchisee, he admitted that Rochester’s high ranking in the contest “isn’t surprising.”

Established in 2003 by Rochesterians Dave and Judy Pennington, the Henrietta location is one of two Pita Pits in the area. After an immediate boom in popularity, the Penningtons opened a second store in 2004 on Alexander Street within walking distance of the Eastman School of Music.

Riggs cites the stores’ success to the Penningtons’ lively approach to management.

“[They] do a great job connecting with their patrons,” he said. “They don’t just serve pitas, they give customers a reason to believe in Rochester. People really respond to that.”
While humbly downplaying his own role, Pennington agreed that their stores have accumulated quite the fan base: ‘ROCPitaPit,’ their local Facebook page, boasts 1,200 fans alone. Unlike The Pita Pit’s corporate Facebook page, “‘ROCPitaPit’ allows us to speak more intimately with customers,” he explained.

Many of their customers, Pennington added, are college students who choose Pita Pit “because it’s not just another sub or pizza place.”

“A larger percentage of younger people are looking for a healthier alternative to traditional fast food,” he said. “They don’t have time to make food themselves but don’t want to settle for something greasy or fried.”

Most UR students who have frequented either Pita Pit in the area seem to share Pennington’s sentiment.

“I find myself asking at the typical burger joint, ‘What’s in today’s mystery meat, a shark or something?’” junior and Pita Pit regular Boris Borovcanin said. “With Pita Pit though, it’s apples and oranges. They respect the cookery.”

This notion of a healthier alternative — which is reflected in the company’s motto, “Fresh thinking, healthy eating” — is what initially attracted the Penningtons to franchising.

“While our daughter was attending college, we visited one of the first Pita Pits in the U.S., which was at Syracuse University,” Pennington said. “We fell in love with the food, the business, and the people who ran it.”

Little over a decade later, the entrepreneurial couple would operate two of their own Pita Pits — one of which would become at least the eighth most popular in the country, regardless of what the contest results may be.

According to the official contest rules, the location that wins the Battle of the Pita Pits will offer free pitas all day. Additionally, one random voter will be selected to receive free pitas for one year. The Pita Pit will announce its top four locations on Friday, Feb. 1 and the winner on Friday, Feb. 15. To vote, visit The Pita Pit’s Facebook page, ‘Pita Pit Fan Page.’

Asked about the prospects of winning the contest, Pennington remained optimistic.

“It’s going to be tough, but I have faith that our fans will rally together,” he said. “If Rochester does win, it’ll be a crazy but great day for everyone.”

“Rochester is a city of champions,” Borovcanin said. “We’ll wrap up this contest, no doubt.”

Gould is a member of the class of 2014.

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