Mehdi Zarhloul is the CEO of Crazy Pita Restaurant Group, a beloved fresh-casual Mediterranean cuisine establishment he founded in Las Vegas in 2006. Recognized for its delectable signature dishes and warm service, Crazy Pita Rotisserie and Grill has been a top choice in the city for over 17 years. Driven by the brand’s consistent success, in 2022 Mehdi embarked on expanding his culinary vision, launching a national franchise program that currently boasts three corporate locations in Las Vegas and ten upcoming outlets in Houston.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Mehdi Zarhloul explains what inspired him to move to Las Vegas and launch Crazy Pita Rotisserie and Grill in 2006
- How the name “Crazy Pita” came about
- What were the early days like after the first restaurant opening?
- Mehdi shares how his prior experience helped him be successful with Crazy Pita
- What sets Crazy Pita apart from other Mediterranean eateries?
- Why Mehdi decided to expand via a national franchise program
- How the brand uses technology to enhance the customer experience
In this episode…
In many industries, an appreciation of technology is embraced as progressive and forward-thinking. Is that also true of the restaurant business, where human connection is valued?
According to Mehdi Zarhloul, who operates multiple Crazy Pita locations, technology has played a transformative role in the industry, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. He highlights the significant shift from traditional methods to a technology-driven ecosystem at Crazy Pita, where he has dedicated substantial time over the past few years to build an AI-powered system. Mehdi’s approach includes leveraging diverse tools such as text messages, email blasts, QR codes, and social media to connect directly with customers, fostering a sense of community and transparency.
On this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Mehdi Zarhloul, CEO of Crazy Pita Restaurant Group, joins Rise25’s Chad Franzen for a conversation about the value of embracing technology to enhance the customer experience in the restaurant industry. Mehdi shares Crazy Pita’s origin story and explains how the brand’s name came about. He also discusses the multiple ways he has embraced the use of technology for both marketing and efficiency in operations.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Mehdi Zarhloul on LinkedIn
- Crazy Pita Rotisserie and Grill’s Website | Facebook | Instagram
- Chad Franzen on LinkedIn
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Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Franzen here co host for this show where we feature top restaurateurs, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn series. SpotOn has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant where they combined marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve sorted everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spoton.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to Rise25.com or email us at support@Rise25.com in 2006, Mehdi Zarhloul moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he opened Crazy Pita Rotisserie and Grill. Crazy Pita has been rocketing to popularity and cemented as Las Vegas’ favorite eatery for over 17 years due to its amazing fresh casual, Mediterranean cuisine, friendly service and welcoming atmosphere. Crazy Pita’s menu selection includes traditions that are both tasty and healthy. In 2022, Mehdi decided to expand his vision by developing a national franchise program. Currently the company operates three corporate locations in Las Vegas, and 10 stores are under development in the Houston Texas area. Mehdi, great to talk to you today. How are you?
Mehdi Zarhloul 1:48
Doing great. Thanks for having me, Chad.
Chad Franzen 1:51
Great to have you here. Hey out. Why don’t we get started by talking a little bit more about Crazy Pita. What inspired you to open it in Las Vegas? I don’t know about 17 years ago
Mehdi Zarhloul 2:02
Yes. The idea came by I gotta give you a little background I mean Tesla to jump into the story. We prior to crazy period I used to work for for season hotels. And I was lucky enough to travel and open restaurants throughout the world. And one of the areas where I was assigned to was the Middle East. So I was always on join great middle eastern food don’t join great pita sandwiches. You know, learning about the culture, you know, from what the roots where it started. I’m originally from Casa Blanca, Morocco. So the language was a bonus for me to travel to Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Dubai and all those countries. And upon my return, I was home based in Los Angeles. I, you know, I wanted or usually on my day off when I go around, and I enjoyed this, you know, the weather of LA. And I wanted some good Mediterranean food, I wanted something that is quick, you don’t have to go to a full service and sit down the two, three hours. Dinner as you know, as from the Middle East, there is no dinner that is like five minutes. It’s so because we adapted to the culture here, I wanted something that is good and tasty and flavorful. Or just like I have it back home. Most of the Mediterranean restaurants then were a lot of there were a lot of mom and pops right. And the food was just like from each the owners towards toward the country that they’re from. So I used to remember my days off, you know, in the industry are usually Mondays and Tuesdays. So I go around and they just couldn’t find what I wanted. And that was driving with a friend of mine who was visiting me from London, he was in the industry as well. And they told him, You know, I really need a good pita. I’m gonna go open my own pita shop. And he looked at me and he goes, You’re so crazy to go home and leave your job and open a pita. And what he said those words, we both kind of said at the same time. Let’s call it Crazy Pita. And that’s and that’s where the name originated. That’s what it began. I went the next day I went to my boss. I gave him my three weeks notice. And the rest here I am I moved to Las Vegas. I think my notice was in November. I found the space in February. I opened August 16 2006 17 years about two months ago.
Chad Franzen 4:52
Wow. That is yeah, that is quite a story. Thanks. Thanks for sharing that I was going to ask you how you came up with the name crazy Peter. So you know you took a very bold move, very bold step to quit a job with kind of, you know Crazy Pita, guaranteed income for lack of a better word and start your own thing. What were the early days like they’re getting getting everything rolling
Mehdi Zarhloul 5:15
Well with all my experience that I had, I mean when you go to like for example when you go open a four season hotel, and you have five, six outlets so it’s you know you beat it becomes part of you just to open restaurants. And then when I opened mine it was you know, it was a bit challenging in the beginning because when you work for a bigger company that has all the finances behind them, you come in and you say I want to Belfry machine here and the week later it magically appears right? You don’t understand the logistics behind it there is piping there is water, there is so many things and here you have to learn those yourself and you have to kind of pay for every single one. So fortunately it was from the construction side we managed to open it within three months. We open our doors we kind of the recipes, we kind of walk them in you know I didn’t I cook them at home we didn’t have a kitchen but with my experience we knew how what they were going to taste you know, you know, you know you have you know there is a science to cooking as a chef, you know the bell peppers, they go with the chicken, you know, the olives go with the steak, you know, certain ingredients that we I assembled. And they’re still today the same pita sandwiches that I’ve designed. And the place that I’ve designed, which my core business that made me successful today, we are still having them. Although we have evolved a little bit more, and we actually do some new, you know, like the balls, the balls just came in just recently within the last six, seven years where everybody wanted a ball. So we introduced those, the salads, the mixed greens, the new leaves the fresh. So we introduced a little bit of avocado salads. You can have, we have evolved the menu a little bit, but our core items have stayed the same. We managed to keep it as consistent as it can be.
Chad Franzen 7:18
I have not been to Morocco, is this part of the standard kind of cuisine or fair in Morocco? Or did you kind of become really familiar with this while you were working in the Middle East?
Mehdi Zarhloul 7:26
Well, the core items like I mentioned, they’re part of Morocco. And I use Moroccan spices, Moroccan flavors. And they kind of pick the spices that are when I opened my business, I kept in mind consistency. And I want to choose the spices that are available not only here in the United States, but available globally. Knowing that one day, we’re going to reach that, that time and we’re going to need so I pick ingredients and menu items that you can find all over the world. And we seem to be we succeeded at it. Like for example, I use the things that I grill, the grill side, the chicken the steak, the lamb those things takes about five to eight minutes to cook. So I needed something to be a little bit fast casual, while you have only a minimal amount of personnel working in the kitchen like a hot on the grill and the cold side. So two people want assembles the the plate and one puts the grill on top. And only one person doing the prep. So you can have three people a three shift operation running the whole restaurant.
Chad Franzen 8:49
Is there one, maybe primary part of your prior experience that really benefited you like we wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t know this from the things you were doing prior to opening Crazy Pita.
Mehdi Zarhloul 8:53
Well, of course, yes. Everything you learn. You learn as you go along. And the good thing about as restaurateurs is you evolve. So whatever you learn today, two years from now something going to happen and you have to switch yours and learn something new. But yes, your past experience does help. It does help big time on what you do. Especially when a small restaurants like us were small mom and pops. You know, you cannot have the luxury to have five people in the kitchen, right? Because that’s money coming from your pocket. You have to pay your mortgage at the end of the day. So you learn those things. The good thing about what I admire about most restaurateurs is we are good at defense. Right? Defense you know, there is always something you learn how to save money when labor hours food. That’s the thing that we are great at and when you have it’s your own money, you are forced to do it because at the end of the day, you have to make a profit and you have to pay your bills. And that’s what most of us go into the business because we’re passionate that’s what we do. But at the same time went into business to make money.
Chad Franzen 10:07
What would you say sets Crazy Pita apart from you know other other Mediterranean eateries?
Mehdi Zarhloul 10:13
A lot of things sets me apart. You know, my menu, for example, I use unique recipes that are to me, you know, from North Africa that they’re very, the recipes that I designed, I made sure that we can cater them to the American palate, and also to the Middle Eastern as well. So I picked certain items that are unique to me. And they are easy and simple to make and duplicate. And they’re acceptable. In any community we do. Either you’re in Los Angeles, or you’re in Oklahoma, or you’re in New York, or even if you can, even in London or Sweden, they are acceptable. The services that I provide, it’s all based on connection, right? It’s all about the person and the owner, who you are. I’m a people person, I went to school to study computer science. You know, when I was in Washington, DC, I learned a few things about computer science, a few things about programming, and in enjoyable work in me and the device in front of me, you know, there was no zoom, then you can talk to people. I’m an HR person, people. So I learned from an early age as I came to this country, at the age of 15. So connection with the people talking to people, that’s how you’re going to succeed. That’s how you’re going to move forward that’s you meet with people who are smarter than you are intelligent, then you want that’s, and that’s what my, my my life has, has taken me so far to today and still continue to do so. It’s always there is that next thing? What’s the next move?
Chad Franzen 12:03
Yeah, as I mentioned you, you have three corporate locations in Las Vegas with 10 more on the way in Texas. In terms of the 3d you have you how do you kind of manage to maintain the standard of food quality that you developed and the service quality among different locations beyond just one?
Mehdi Zarhloul 12:20
Well, it’s all you know, when you build the concept, my experience came to with them my background with the with the big national chains, is you want to be consistent. And they watch what I learned I created my spices and they created techniques for anyone that can come and make the same chicken skewers that I make in location A can make it in location B or C and so on. And so far we’ve been very successful at it. It’s all about having systems in place it’s all ever happened prior processes. So we kind of seem to have our we kind of grasp it before we decided we’re gonna go out there and franchise we had to put certain matters we had to have a checklist where we have I go with their five, you know, I have a five ones checklist that I go by before I move on to the next location. And they’re very simple and you know one is the simplicity of the system. Right and how we are you know, sure my menu, my online menu today and I have the supervisor from my new location Sugarland here and his first day was like he was he looked at my menu goes oh my god you have pita salad this he was kind of but this word and like oh my god this is so simple, I can easily duplicate it. So simplicity of the system is number one from the front of house and back of house and you have to have this all in place. Let the labor and control you want to make sure you have your labor are well trained and their inventory systems in place. So you have your I have a great inventory system that I use four years ago before all this technology. Right? Well, I have only two fridges, one for my vegetables one of my needs. When you place an order, I know how many cases you’re going to bring if you order more than three cases I will get alerted I will know where do you what are you going to put right and I buy a case I’m just throwing a number if I buy a case for $100. Before you order the next case, I want to see $1,000 in my cash register. These are small little indicators as an operator you learn by experience or if you buy five cases of chicken by you’re only selling you know one calf a case of sodas you know there is something wrong those are the things that I can put together and we can notice but for a new franchisee we have to put all that for them in a in a system where it’d be easy easier for them to look and, you know, and kind of detect if there is any issues or anything wrong. That’s what the inventory system at the end of the day is designed for to do to know overstock and Bucha? Don’t, you know, don’t shorten yourself with products?