Small Business Survivors: Owner of New York City’s The Hummus & Pita Co. on feeding first responders, inclusive menu and more

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Photo courtesy of The Hummus & Pita Co.

For the past ten years, The Hummus & Pita Co. has been offering something for anyone who walks through their doors. 

Owner and co-founder Dave Pesso comes from a Mediterranean background — the Brooklynite’s father is from Greece and his mother has Eastern European and Israeli roots. When it came to starting his own restaurant, Pesso knew he wanted to take the best flavors and incorporate them into The Hummus & Pita Co.

“Usually Mediterranean/Middle Eastern restaurants are very niche, like they are Turkish, Israeli, just halal or just Greek,” said Pesso. “We’re a mixture of everything. We have shawarma, Turkish meatballs, Lebanese cauliflower, Moroccan beans, Turkish salad. We take the best of the Middle East and the Mediterranean for our menu.”

The Hummus & Pita Co. opened its first location in Chelsea and quickly grew into additional locations in the Upper East Side and Tribeca. About four years ago, The Hummus & Pita Co. expanded to new locations across the United States, including Connecticut, New Jersey, California, Michigan, Georgia and Alabama.

The eatery offers a variety of options that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free, plus several meat options, including Vegan Morrocan Meatballs, street-style Shawarma and Gyro, Black Bean Hummus, Corfu Cauliflower Rice, as well as signature hummus-based dessert offerings such as the Avoganoush. Pesso says that The Hummus & Pita Co. prides itself on being a place that has something for everybody who walks through the door. 

Photo courtesy of The Hummus & Pita Co.

“It’s very healthy, we use fresh ingredients with no preservatives. We make everything at the location and we use the best ingredients, nothing is prepackaged. When we separated ourselves from a regular falafel/shawarma place, we want to be inclusive for everybody, there’s something for everyone. What’s great is that the vegan community embraced us, which is very rare because we have chicken, lamb, and steak. Sometimes they are very ideological and think vegan or nothing,” said Pesso. “So we opened a dialogue with the community and said, listen, don’t beat them over the head, introduce them and show how great veganism can be. When we make something vegan, we make sure that it’s next level because you don’t want to sacrifice taste.”

Pesso says that The Hummus & Pita Co.’s customer base is vast and comes from a number of different backgrounds and professions. Those who may not be familiar with the restaurant’s cuisine come in and leave completely hooked not just because of the food, but because of the environment.

“I would say 50% or more come to us not necessarily because we’re Middle Eastern/Mediterranean but the delicious healthy food and fresh, and because my workers are like my family and it relates to my customers,” said Pesso. “It’s nice and professional, but warm and fuzzy, and that makes a huge difference.”

One menu item that gained a lot of traction for the eatery is their Chickpea Chiller. Formerly known as the Hummus Shake, the Chickpea Chiller is a one-of-a-kind shake that has a chickpea base and is sweetened with dates, bananas, and blended with almond milk, and comes in several flavors. The shake gained a lot of attention online on outlets such as Time Out New York, Food 52 and more.

“People go crazy for it. A lot of people don’t but chickpeas are now known as one of the best plant-based proteins,” said Pesso. “It’s a chameleon, it fits so many profiles.”

Photo courtesy of The Hummus & Pita Co.

Like many restaurants, several locations of The Hummus & Pita Co. shut their doors at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pesso says that the only location that stayed open the entire time was the Chelsea location, located at 585 6th Avenue, and they picked up a lot of delivery and take-out service throughout the year.

Though work at the Chelsea location went on, The Hummus & Pita Co. got involved with feeding first responders who were on the front lines of COVID-19 response and recovery in New York City.

“We did a lot with a lot of hospitals. As we were doing a lot of donations and meals, some people saw what we were doing,” said Pesso. “Grubhub and Hellman’s Mayonaisse made a fund for first responders and took us as one of the vendors. For 6 months we were doing anywhere from 400, 600, to 700 meals a day for first responders for hospitals all over New York. it was great to be a part of that program.”

Now that New York City has been reopening, Pesso says that the business is coming back very slowly. He is having trouble finding people to work in the stores because of the pandemic, and foot traffic is down in the Manhattan restaurants.

Photo courtesy of The Hummus & Pita Co.

“By [noon], pre-COVID, we’d have a line out the door. Luckily we have a decent delivery/takeout business, we see catering coming back drips and drabs,” said Pesso. “It’s gonna take a while before New York City bounces back. We need something, New York seems like it’s missing its usual spark. It really hurt our morale, people are really scared.”

As New York City starts to bounce back, Pesso is committed to expanding The Hummus & Pita Co.’s reach by doing what they do best: serving up delicious food for anyone who walks through their doors.

“To be able to bring delicious healthy good food to the masses at an affordable price and being inclusive for everyone, nothing makes us happier,” said Pesso.

For more information about The Hummus & Pita Co., visit hummusandpitas.com.

Photo courtesy of The Hummus & Pita Co.