Healthy food, healthy business

11 October 2016 / Published in Business

You wouldn’t think there is much in common between sprint kayaking, Canadian ski instructing and a Chick ‘N’ Fala pita, but ASB customers Duane Dalton and Chris Henderson are living proof that there is.

In 2006 the Kiwi business duo left their sporting careers and brought the Pita Pit franchise to NZ, the first time it had operated outside of North America.  Last year they opened their 100th Australasian Pita Pit store and this year they are celebrating 10 years in business together.  ”We’ve been through a huge learning curve,“ Duane reflects and their success speaks for itself.

The pair initially approached Pita Pit in Canada about bringing the healthy food franchise to New Zealand. “Back then we were just so hungry for success – we had no fear of failure,” reflects Chris. “Blissfully ignorant!” laughs Duane. And perhaps unsurprisingly, the pair were able to apply their expertise on the sporting field to business. “A game plan versus a strategic plan is not too different.” They opened their first store in Takapuna in 2007 and now they have over 100 stores across New Zealand and Australia.

Refusing to settle

However if you think that running a franchise follows a cookie cutter method, you’d be wrong. The pair quickly found themselves on a steep learning curve, “We were taught how to run a store, not a country operation.” Adapting an overseas operation for New Zealand meant they needed to ‘New Zealandise’ Pita Pit for local customers and communities, something that had never been done before. There is a clear passion in this duo, and it has existed from the start. When designing a new store, they hit a hurdle getting the existing store design into the space available. The store designer told them it couldn't be done. But Chris and Duane stayed and worked all night to nut out a solution and a way to make it fit. “We refused to settle.”  This meant many long nights and plenty of hard work but 10 years later they can look back on their success with well-earned satisfaction.

Making good food irresistible

Delivering healthy food - at scale - is something the pair strive for. “We provide food that makes your body reach out and give your mind a hug,” enthuses Chris. From Whangarei to Invercargill you can get the same Pita Pit experience - something industry competitors struggle to replicate. While artisan brands and food suppliers are now plentiful, they often serve a local market but haven’t extended their food offering nationwide as Pita Pit has. And that is where the real business growth is. “We are constantly innovating at scale.”

The constant swirl of change

Change is constant in every business and for Pita Pit this is no different. Change drives innovation and in today’s world of easily available paleo snacks and clean eating, customers demand more and more. “We are restless in our approach towards innovation,” says Chris. “Customers are more aware of what they are eating and how they are eating it, so innovation is entwined through everything, whether it be sourcing suppliers, lowering salt and sugar levels or social and corporate responsibility.” Recently the pair introduced free range chicken tenders into their menu, something customers have snapped up. And innovation also comes from customers – Pita Pit has noticed the recent ‘menu hack’ of ordering a garden salad then adding chicken tenders to it. Customer driven trends like this help shape future menu options and supplier choices.

Successful partners

So how does a successful business partnership like this survive? “Our partnership is like a marriage. Our marriage is 10 years old and most marriages don't last that long,” Duane laughs. But joking aside, their relationship was formed on a backbone of mutual respect. “Doing what is right, not what is easy. If it is good for the brand then it is ultimately good for us.” Personal agendas are put to one side, and decisions are made together. Ego has no place in their business.

So, from peeling off saucepan labels in the middle of the night to running a franchise of over 100 stores… in just 10 years. Pretty good for a couple of Kiwi blokes.

Duane Dalton and Chris Henderson are finalists in the 2016 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards which ASB is a proud sponsor of.


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