“I realized I had to make moves for my family,” reads a quote by Krista Marucheau on the website of Pita Pit, a chain of eateries with more than 200 locations in the U.S. and a dozen countries — now with its first Long Island location in Hauppauge. She was referring to a day in July of 2017, otherwise known as the day her normal ended. Marucheau was a happy stay-at-home mother of four, her husband had a good job as the project supervisor of an asbestos and lead removal company. Then, he started losing feeling in his feet.
“I sent him to the doctor thinking he could have diabetes, but they wound up finding out that his spinal cord was compressed,” said the 33-year-old. What happened next: Emergency surgery, a pulmonary embolism, more surgery, and finally the diagnosis of permanent disability. “My husband had always been the breadwinner. It was very tough on him.”
Now the task of breadwinner fell to her, and Marucheau didn’t miss a beat. She leapt into action, deciding that there was money to be made in food. For one thing, “businesses were shutting down, but restaurants weren’t,” she said. For another, Marucheau’s best friend, who happens to be her mother Adeline Watkins, was freshly retired from her job as a cook at Comsewogue High School in Port Jefferson Station, where she lives just a few blocks from Marucheau. “But we’d never worked together before,” said Watkins.
And neither had run a food business before opening Long Island’s first Pita Pit franchise in December. The sandwich chain, Marucheau was quick to point out, uses “a pocket pita, not Greek-style pita.” (A few people have been confused, apparently.) “We fill up the bread, stuff it with whatever toppings, and then roll it like a burrito. You can get anything rolled and bowled here.”
“And you can eat while you’re driving,” added Watkins, who was blown away by her daughter’s steadiness and tenacity during the two years they worked to open their Pita Pit in a freshly-built Hauppauge shopping center. “I’m so proud of her, unbelievably proud. This was a girl who by the skin of her nose graduated high school.” Marucheau nodded. “I’m telling you by the skin of her nose. And she took it upon herself to build this place out. She was with the construction guys, she went to town hall, to everything. And she got this done by herself, basically. And she’s still doing it.”
“The beginning was extremely hard,” Marucheau admitted. “I thought I was going to die. But now I have fun.” These days she regularly turns up the music and dances behind the counter, along with some of her 17 employees. The children are still adjusting to life without mom always at home (“the two little ones hate Pita Pit, another one takes a Pita Pit lunch to school every day, and my oldest works here on weekends.”) But life goes on in the new normal, a life that seems just a bit less burdensome with her best friend at her side.
“Before we worked together we would hang out so much, some people thought it was a sick, twisted relationship,” laughed Marucheau.
“And it used to cost us money to hang out together,” added Watkins. “Now at least we might be making some money.”
Pita Pit is at 812 Wheeler Rd. in Hauppauge, 631-780-6655, pitapitusa.com. Opening hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday.