Since it was founded in 1994, Pita Jungle has grown to 24 locations across the Phoenix area, Flagstaff and Tucson. To continue its expansion and provide healthy options to a growing customer base here in the Valley, the Mediterranean chain is taking a different angle with the launch of its new food truck.
“Everyone has been kind of seduced by the notion of food trucks, and that had started a few years ago when food trucks came out of the woodwork as a new thing,” says Bassel Osmani, Pita Jungle co-founder. “Chefs were going on food trucks. Suddenly, it wasn’t just typical ‘food truck’ food.”
Citing a shift from typical “festival food” such as hot dogs to “gourmet” options, Osmani realizes there are opportunities that come with mobile food, especially in light of recent events.
“Now, in the wake of COVID — or while we’re still in COVID — we realized that’s something that we can use in several fashions,” Osmani explains. “Having turned to Uber Eats and DoorDash and all these platforms during this pandemic, we noticed with our brand recognition all that we needed to do is turn on a platform to get sales.”
The 20-foot truck features a custom-built kitchen, serving some of the brand’s usual starters, salads, pitas, sandwiches, bowls and desserts — not to mention combos and a few new items specific to the truck. Osmani calls the selections Pita Jungle’s “greatest hits” that also work in a mobile format. Plus, he says, the team is leaving room for specials.
“We’ll be testing things to see what works, what doesn’t,” he explains.
Osmani is keeping his eye on opportunities from all angles, and he sees many different ways the food truck could prove useful to Pita Jungle.
Mainly, it will allow expanded access to areas where the chain doesn’t already have restaurants, while also allowing third-party delivery support. Osmani likens it to a new restaurant and digital storefront.
The truck’s location will be updated in real time on Pita Jungle’s website, with the brand also aiming to engage with supporters on social media, Osmani says.
On the other hand, he says catering is a “huge” part of Pita Jungle, which has always sought a practical way of doing so.
“If nothing else, I mean, that food truck will be a very useful tool just to shape up and fortify our catering operations,” Osmani says. “And then if things work out, the sky’s the limit, right?”
While the goal is to eventually have a fleet of food trucks, Osmani considers the first one “the proverbial wetting the whistle.” It all depends upon results. “We’ll take it from there,” he says.
Beyond the obvious scenarios, Osmani is open to other opportunities for the food truck. That includes a future in which there could be a drive-thru lane, something he says other restaurants have had success with during the pandemic.
“Imagine you have a physical location and you put the truck next to it and you create a traffic loop where cars drive up to the food truck, place an order on a microphone or by a human attendant in a parking lot, and then they drive through it and pick up,” he describes.
Another opportunity could be going so far as to put food trucks in more remote locations, giving people access to healthy food by such areas as rest stops.
“I thought about the notion of going somewhere on the I-10 or the I-8 between Phoenix and San Diego, Phoenix and LA, and putting food trucks there,” Osmani notes.
And while he emphasizes it’s not in the works, a “summon” feature is on his wish list so the food truck could target high-demand areas.
“There’s lot of cool applications, but we have to figure out the logistics,” he says.