Shine On – meet the nominees – Pita Pit

Submitted photo Rob Mills, left, owner/operator of Pita Pit St. Stephen, delivered free meals to essential workers during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, including Giant Tiger, which was graciously received by Wayne Hall. These meals were paid for by community members, and the recipients were able to order any pita they wanted and be able to enjoy a free meal that also included a can of pop and a cookie for dessert.

St. Stephen – While approximately 75 per cent of Pita Pit restaurants across Canada had to shut their doors during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a handful remained open to serve their communities.

The Pita Pit in St. Stephen was one of only five in New Brunswick that remained open, and Owner/Operator Rob Mills did everything he could to make sure that his location would be able to continue serving customers. He and his staff also went above and beyond to ensure that free meals were delivered to essential workers. This is one of the many reasons why Pita Pit has been nominated for one of three The Saint Croix Courier Shine On awards. Puny Human and Element 506 were the first two businesses awarded the prize.

Mills said the only reason his store was able to remain open was because of the support of the community, and he is extremely grateful for it. He chose to take part in a Canada-wide Pita Pit initiative to feed essential workers, and delivered approximately 300 meals to people in the St. Stephen area.

“Pita Pit had a Canada-wide sponsor-a-meal for frontline workers,” said Mills. “So, we really started utilizing that initiative they came up with, and we were able to supply close to 300 meals. The community sponsored it. You sponsor a meal for $10 plus tax, and that includes any pita, a can of pop, and a cookie.”

Mills said the program involved the whole community, and was a huge success. Anyone who wanted to sponsor a meal for an essential worker could pay $10, and a meal consisting of a pita, a can of pop, and a cookie would be delivered to the essential worker. Some people specified where they wanted their donated meals to go, while others let Mills and his staff decide which businesses would receive free meals on any given day.

“We delivered to Superstore, Giant Tiger, the hospital, all the banks, Canadian Tire, all the drug stores, the dollar store, liquor store, we delivered around to as many places we could get to that people consider are essential workers. Once I’d get a bunch, I’d go to like Giant Tiger, and they’d have 20-some people.

“We’d do up lunch, and make sure we got everybody in that store. They’d put their orders in, so they got what they wanted for a pita, not just something dropped off. We did right around 300 of those. That’s still ongoing, but now that everything’s opened back up again it’s really slowed right down.”

Mills said there were a few changes made at the store in order to ensure that it was safe for both customers and staff. In the beginning, they were only able to offer take-out service, and Mills made sure that anyone who wanted a meal was able to get it, delivering meals throughout St. Stephen and other parts of Charlotte County.

“We couldn’t have dine-in for a while,” said Mills. “It was take-out, delivery, or curbside pick-up. You could come in and place your order, and then get your food and have to leave. You couldn’t sit. Now, we do have seating indoors now for eight, and we have seating outdoors for 24. Originally it was 16, but then the health department said I could put all four chairs around the tables. At first I only put two, thinking I wouldn’t be allowed to put any more.”

New safety protocols were implemented, including installing barriers around the cash register and front station, cleaning tables after every use with alcohol hand sanitizer, and putting down arrows and floor markers to indicate social distancing.

“We have to take our temperatures when we come to work. We’re not allowed to start working until we take our temperatures and make sure that we don’t have a fever.”

Pita Pit St. Stephen continues to offer delivery service, and there are several ways to order your meals. Mills said people can call for delivery, fax their orders in, or order online and put in the notes where they want to have their meals delivered to.

Mills was surprised, and very pleased, to learn that Pita Pit had been nominated for a Shine On award. He wants to thank the community for their ongoing support, and said there is no way he could have remained open without that support.

“I want to thank everybody that continued to come, and new customers, and for utilizing our online ordering and our delivery. Without them, we would have had to shut down. A lot of the businesses were feeding their staff, and they were ordering platters. Without the community support, we wouldn’t have been able to keep our doors open.”