In 2011, I sold a successful mortgage banking business with 28 locations so that I could pursue my passion: cooking. With the help of my family, I opened the Hummus & Pita Co., a fast-casual restaurant with a scratch kitchen. We currently have four locations in New York City, a franchising program, and our sights set on expanding to other areas of the U.S. The lessons I learned during my previous career have helped make this venture a success.
I loved Mediterranean food from the first bite. My Greek mother-in-law’s amazing meals could send you to nirvana. We would always be around mooching dinners, so she decided to share her recipes with me and teach me how to cook.
I had a passion for Mediterranean food and a passion for my children. That was my motivation for the initial concept because I wanted to have a family-run business, to have something for future generations.
I decided to switch gears and pursue this lifelong ambition, together with the family, and create a quintessential eating experience with the food that I’ve loved for the last 40 years. We were very successful in the mortgage banking industry, but it was the perfect time to pursue this.
At the time, some 10 years ago, Mediterranean food became extremely hot, especially since medical professionals had been telling the public about the health benefits. Mediterranean food used to be something you’d have once every six months. People started looking for it much more often. We built upon that, coming up with the idea to have a myriad of various dishes that includes Middle Eastern foods, too. You’ll see a gyro next to shwarma. We have all the quintessential dishes and flavors.
Before we had our grand opening, we spent a few weeks having tasting parties. We had wonderful chefs and it was fun. We decided to be eco-friendly, using refurbished woods and sustainable products. We use healthy ingredients and we do everything from scratch daily.
This is what we wanted to present to our patrons. It’s the golden rule: I’ll do unto you what I think should be done to me. We enjoy catering to people. In the mortgage industry, you also cater to people. It’s a very hard industry. I think it’s as hard as a restaurant business is.
You’re only as good as the people who work for you.
With the mortgage business, you’re helping people realize their dreams. What’s more important than making sure someone has a home to live in? You’re trying to please them and have them come back thanks to good service, care, professionalism and feeling like they’re special. Here, we’re filling their bellies with healthy, nutritional food. The same rules apply.
In both industries, it’s about nurturing.
In the mortgage industry, you nurture people because you hold their hands through purchasing a house or refinancing, some of the most stressful life events you could ever go through. In restaurants, it’s like mothering. You’re a mother who wants to keep your children well fed, with a smile on their face.
With this mindset, we found success early on. Lines were out the door and down the block. It was then we realized we had an excellent brand.
Staffing is also a priority. We put good people to work. We make sure that our line service employees and cashiers are friendly and helpful. We lucked out with our employees, most of whom were with us from the beginning. We consider them to be our ambassadors. They’re all a part of the team. You’re only as good as the people who work for you. That goes in any industry, and anybody who thinks differently is very foolish.
We’re like a family. We help people with immigration. We’ve gotten some people citizenships. We’re just lucky to have them because we couldn’t do this by ourselves.
They’re part of the reason we’ve been able to expand and create a name for ourselves in such a competitive market. We all have that same passion for perfection and professionalism. We don’t take anything for granted.
We have a passion for the food, a passion to serve, a passion to make people happy, and, of course, we want to be profitable. That’s important, too. You just have to put the mileage in to find what works.