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Pita Pit owner talks challenges, rewards as franchisee

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More than a franchise

Michelle Wulfson | The ItemElizabeth Florer poses in front of a custom mural painted by a Sam Houston State University artist at her Pita Pit restaurant. The mural is one of many unique features that sets the Huntsville restaurant apart from typical locations in the franchise chain, attributing to the unique small family business feel.

Elizabeth Florer came into the food business almost accidentally. In the midst of a mid-life career change, her life took on a new adventure.

The Pita Pit franchisee traded her 14 hour work days tethered to a desk to rekindle her youth, though the journey was not exactly what she imagined going in.

“When they say food is a hard business, they are not kidding,” Huntsville Pita Pit franchisee Elizabeth Florer said.

Florer used to live in Pearland, working in the corporate world as an international project manager for data networking, overseeing all of the network applications across the globe for a large international company.

“There came a time when I just was so tired that I just left that corporate world,” Florer said. “The day I left, my family was traveling to East Texas for a weekend in the country and we stopped here to eat because we had a vegetarian in the car and I knew with a name like “Pita Pit”, we were sure to get falafel or something.”

Out of curiosity, Florer asked the man behind the counter what his franchise experience was like, practicing an exercise of imagination. She would have never referred to herself as a cook, but wanted to be open to new opportunities in life that were radically different from the corporate setting she was used to.

“He said, buy this place, we’re with corporate, we’re looking for an owner. He named a number that was hard to kind of ignore, and then I called him back two weeks later and he named a number that was even more difficult to ignore, so I bought it,” Florer said.

Florer became owner of the restaurant July 1, 2012 from corporate Pita Pit, who took over the restaurant from a previous franchisee who had walked away from the business.

“I came up here because it was an opportunity to own a business and I thought I was getting into a franchise that was really on the go and about to explode – that hasn’t turned out to be the case,” Florer said. “The support that I would have expected wasn’t there.”

Though Florer was left in unfamiliar waters by the franchise to build the business on her own, the business owner said that the community helped in ways she never expected, helping her create a unique franchise with a small business feel.

“Coming into a small town, I was really worried that people would not be really welcoming to an outsider, because I didn’t know anybody when I bought this place, but I came in and I joined several organizations. I met a lot of wonderful people and they were very welcoming,” Florer said.

Florer tries to give back to the community when she can, donating 600 kids meal coupons to the Huntsville Public Library to be given to kids in their summer reading program, asking that any left over coupons be distributed throughout the remainder of the year to encourage kids to read.

She also donates food to Wounded Warrior events, free kids meals coupons to Stewart Elementary, Hospitality House and more.

“The community really welcomed me, I was a stranger and they really welcomed me and made me feel like a part of the community and now I don’t think I’d ever want to live anywhere else,” Florer said.

Looking out over the restaurant, the mood is slightly somber with Florer, the past three years have been difficult for the business owner and her family, first encountering a house fire in 2017 followed by homelessness as their soon-to-be home underwent renovations and then her diagnosis of breast cancer in 2018.

“Through this experience I have worked with second degree burns from radiation, I have worked here with strategic chairs in places because if a certain feeling happened, I had 40 seconds before I would faint,” Florer said. “I’ve worked with staples and unloaded food trucks and done things that I shouldn’t have been doing, but when you own a business, you do everything you can regardless of how you feel.”

Since her treatment process began, Florer notes that her sales have plummeted as she has been unable to fully commit herself to the business, and attributes her doors still being open to the help of her two daughters.

Florer does see her time with Pita Pit coming to an end in the next two years when her contract will expire with the company. After healing from her last stretch of cancer surgeries, Florer is focusing on getting the restaurant ready for sale and is looking for buyers.

New items outside of Pita Pit’s typical offerings of gyros will be added to try to revive the restaurant’s sales and sustain the business for the remainder of her contract. Espresso, cold brew, gourmet and alcohol infused cupcakes from her daughter’s side business Craving Some, will be added to the restaurant and become part of a new full time family business for Florer and her daughters.

Florer and her husband are currently remodeling a 31-foot passenger bus from Huntsville First Baptist Church to convert into their family food truck. Coffee and Craving will operate in Huntsville during the week and hit the road traveling to festivals on weekends, serving sandwiches, coffee, sweets and vegan options.

Coffee and Craving will give Flores more time to relax and enjoy spending time with her husband and daughters, while providing a secure future and outlet for her daughters to thrive in.