Passion for Pockets; Turkish Entrepreneur Spends Hours Perfecting Mediterranean Menu

Article excerpt

Byline: Donna De Marco, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Atilla Kan has perfected the pita. The 63-year-old entrepreneur is banking on his recipe of secret

ingredients and hard work to expand the Perfect Pita, a chain of Mediterranean-inspired pita shops with an American twist.

The Perfect Pita plans to open 150 franchise locations in Maryland, Virginia and the District in the next five years. The family-run carry-out business, which serves breakfast and lunch, has two restaurants in Alexandria and one in the District.

The menu includes about two dozen sandwiches such as the chicken gyro, hummus veggie and the club - each tucked inside the handmade flat, hollow bread.

Almost all of the food is made at the company's Springfield bakery - from the pita and hummus to marinades and mayonnaise.

About 5,000 pitas and 500 pounds of hummus are made each day. Those items are also sold at local Whole Foods Markets and Balducci's.

Mr. Kan, who was born and raised in Turkey, begins his day as early as 4 a.m. concocting the secret ingredients that make the pitas his own. He goes home at 9 p.m.

"You have to be passionate or you cannot do it," Mr. Kan said. "No shoulder would be strong enough."

After coming to the United States in 1965 and spending a few years teaching language and then starting his own house-painting business, Mr. Kan decided to venture into the restaurant industry with no experience.

He bought Pickle Palace in Arlington in 1975 and changed the name to Atilla's and served Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine.

Mr. Kan focused on the menu. It took him two years to make what he considers the perfect pita, which is a staple of his menu. He developed his hummus by experimenting with a recipe he found in a book in a library.

"If you're going to put something on the menu, you either do it right or don't do it," Mr. Kan said. "If it's not exceptional, don't do it."

By 1992, he had opened eight Atilla's restaurants - six in the Washington area and two in Massachusetts and sold them to different operators.

The majority of the stores have closed since he sold them. Just two with the Atilla's name are still open.

Mr. Kan continued his restaurant venture, but under a new name.

He opened the first Perfect Pita in 1994 in Alexandria and another one in 2002. …