Friday, November 25, 2011
Pitaway on Melrose, Los Angeles
I entered Pitaway on Melrose after seeing the huge sign of grand opening outside. Everyone loves grand openings So I had to enter, hoping for a new love affair with this new place. I learned it’s the second Pitaway in Los Angeles – which might hint they’re hoping to become a franchise. Everything in the look of the store shouts FRANCHISE. It doesn't look like a fast food place but rather like a modern fast food restaurant. That said, the middle eastern restaurant that was there before them - Muma, which was reviewed in this blog in the past - also shouted Franchise – and yet apparently it didn’t make it into a franchise- so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this one. I think LA does deserve a middle eastern restaurant chain with good and fast falafel. This place is new – so I’ll revisit it in a few month after they solve some of their opening quirks. Wanting this place to succeed – I’ll give my own humble opinion what they need to work on in order to succeed in a very competitive street like Melrose. But would love to hear what other people think of this new place:
FAST FOOD FRANCHISE LOOK:
This restaurant has the logo of a fast food place, the décor of a fast food place, the overall energy of a fast food place, and yet extremely slow food service. The secrets of a fast food franchise is that they nailed down a way to serve their food fast. Doesn’t matter if it’s a Chipotle, Wendy’s, Subway, Fat Burger… Each one has their own method of ensuring that the food is served fast. To me it seemed like this place didn’t have any real organized and institutionalized plan how to ensure the customer gets their food fast and it wasn’t a priority for anyone in the place. It took over 15 minutes to get a falafel in a lafah breah. I appreciated the falafel being fresh but having to wait in a nearly empty restaurant for 15 minutes showed that there’s no respect for the customers time. Since this is the second restaurant with the same name and concept in LA – and the other one already exists for several years – it proves there’s no real plan how to make sure customers don’t spend too much time in the restaurant before getting fed.
The pricing is decent for middle eastern restaurants. Plates are about $11, Pitas $8-9 While it’s not expensive – I think they’re still 10% more than what will make them really competitive and allow them to take of. The woman at the cash register boasted on the fact they’re Kosher which indeed is a huge plus being close to La Brea and the Jewish ultra Orthodox district – but for the general audience it’s not a deal breaker. With so many options on Melrose – and even a highly competitive Indian lunch buffet almost across the street – I believe that $10 is the limit most people will pay for most fast meals. They might get people to come once and try them out – but in order to get repeat business – they need to lower their prices.
I was highly disappointed they served pickles made in brine and not Pickles in salt. For the non middle easterns reading this blog - to illustrate the difference - assume you're going to a Mexican restauran and instead of corn chips they serve you Cheetos and the waiter tells you it's the same...
Or assume you go to a Chinese restaurant and instead of fried rice they serve you french fries and tell you it's the same...
Get the point?
Every cuisine - has some elements that are a make or break and salted pickles are a must for an authentic middle eastern cuisine.
For many middle eastern food lovers- not having pickles in salt is a deal breaker and that’s why many middle eastern restaurants serve their customers unlimited pickles in salt with each order. Moreover – what made matters worse is they have a free pickled vegetable salad that doesn’t have pickles. I noticed everyone who purchased food after me took the plastic plate they give you to the pickled salad bar and noticing the lack of pickles – joked about it angrily and threw the plate to the garbage without taking anything. Hopefully that’s not the plan – but why would a restaurant want to anger it’s customers on something so trivial and so obvious? It’s a great way to lose customers who are fans of middle eastern food. Portions: I ordered a falafel in a lafah – a middle eastern version of a burrito. It usually costs more than a pita and is supposed to hold much more food. Perhaps other middle eastern restaurants have spoiled me, or perhaps it was just chipotle that made me aware of how much food can really go into a burrito. The falafel in a lafah I got was mostly rolled lafah bread and very little in it. Very few falafels, I didn’t feel the hummus and very few vegetables that made very little impact. The meal costs nearly $10 and for that price I felt cheated. Taste: The overall taste is good – but not spectacular and yet I must give them credit that everything tasted very fresh. The Falafels were hot and fresh, the pita was fresh. The hummus didn’t make any impact and they need to work on it and find a way to give it a much stronger point of view.
I want to love this place. I ‘d love for Melrose to have as many middle eastern restaurants as possible – it would be great and I’ll be their biggest fans. Maybe I’m totally wrong – but based on my experience – I don’t think their target audience can only be ultra orthodox Jews who might or might not show up because of their Kosher sign. I think they need to cater to everyone. Families, hipsters and the many young people walking Melrose that are looking for healthy and cheap food. In order to get the general public’s attention this restaurants need to come down to earth and start making cheaper food, in larger quantities that’s in a family price range or else they’ll end up closing like other middle eastern restaurants in that area that have come and gone. Like any other new restaurant on Melrose at the beginning there will be a honeymoon between the locals and this place – as everyone always want to try out the new restaurants on the street. But whomever owns this place needs to show that his vision is not just graphics that present a large corporate style middle eastern restaurant but also the vision of a large corporation – with a big vision and real care for the smallest details. I hope they succeed and will keep all of you posted!