Valeria Quinones was 23 years old in 2016 when she decided to open a Pita Pit franchise in Puerto Rico. Founder Nelson Lang met and agreed to work with her. Two years and two hurricanes later, Quinones had survived catastrophe and was able to open her business on April 6, 2018 in Old San Juan.
Since its founding in the U.S. in 1999, Pita Pit has become one of the fastest-growing quick service restaurant franchises in the country. It now boasts more than 600 stores across 11 countries, was ranked No. 1 in its category by Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500, and was ranked the 14th-fastest growing restaurant chain in the world by Technomic in 2016.
After Quinones graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Puerto Rico, she traveled to Lebanon, where she fell in love with pita bread. Her father encouraged her to open her own business, and when she came across the idea of becoming a Pita Pit franchisee, it seemed like a perfect fit.
But dealing with situations out of her control – especially natural disasters and hurricanes, which cause frequent power outages – has proved a great challenge to the young entrepreneur.
After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, some of Quinones’ contactors went unaccounted for because telecommunication systems across the entire island were down for weeks. Electrical engineers could not get to the city of San Juan because there was no gasoline for vehicles and roads were blocked by trees, sand, and other debris. Main roads were completely flooded so that only military vehicles could pass. As a result, construction was delayed for a month, and from then on it moved slowly due to lack of materials and electricity. Many of the staff Quinones already had hired left Puerto Rico permanently.
Although nine months have passed since the hurricane, Quinones still is dealing with the repercussions. Both the electrical and telecommunication systems in Puerto Rico remain unstable. For example, on April 18 the entire electric system shut down for more than 14 hours. Quinones had to ferry as much inventory as possible to a nearby cold storage facility that had a power generator. But she still lost a significant amount of food and her Pita Pit was forced to close for business for two days.
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