When David Hawk Pildner lost his job at National City, he knew the time was right to start his own business. The Cleveland Heights native graduated college with an accounting degree, and he had close to 15 years of specialized IT experience. But it was a different skill set he fell back on for inspiration.
"I was attending Wittenberg when I decided to spend the summer painting on Cape Cod," he says. He ended up spending four years on the island working at a small pita shop. After waking up one morning with a brutal hangover, Pildner says he found the motivation to return to school and complete his studies.
All these years later, Pildner never stopped thinking about that pita shop.
"I thought it was such a unique concept," he says, making a point to distinguish a pita sandwich from the more ubiquitous tortilla wrap. So soon after getting the axe, he dreamed up a plan to open his own shop. After scouting locations on Cleveland's West Side, he landed on a recently shuttered coffee shop in Fairview Park. Cyclones Pitas opened for business in June.
The bright, tidy sandwich shop has the feel of a chain — and not by accident. Pildner says he hopes to open a second location before long, with additional franchises down the road. Wrap-around menu boards announce the names of sandwiches in vivid pastel chalk. The logo and signage are professionally designed. And the tagline — "Taste how we roll!" — just screams Madison Avenue branding. "I came up with it while mowing the lawn and drinking a beer," says Pildner.
But a sandwich is only as good as its delivery vehicle, and in this case that ride is fresh-baked pita from Cleveland's Aladdin's Bakery. Butter-soft 13-inch pitas are split into two thin rounds, with only half used per sandwich. "This way you're tasting the meat, you're tasting the cheese, and you're tasting the sauce."
Stuffed with good-quality meats, cheeses, veggies, and dressings, the sandwiches are rolled up tight, sliced in half, and presented in a wax-paper-lined basket. Thanks to their spiral core, the sandwiches indeed resemble the eye of a cyclone.
By far the most popular sandwich is the California Club ($7.50), a fat twist of turkey, bacon, Swiss, avocado, and the house dressing, a snappy honey-Dijon mustard. Rare roast beef gives the Brazen Bull ($6.95) its bark, but it's the hearty dose of horseradish that gives this beast its bite. Sliced pepper jack cheese also brings a little spice to the party.
Other sandwiches star sliced ham, chicken breast, or vegetarian options like hummus, veggies, cheese, and even peanut butter and banana. Prices mostly run between $5.95 and $7.50. Kids' items are priced as low as $1.99.
During one of our recent visits, Pildner was just beginning to roll out a new product: pita pizza. Built atop a 10-inch round and baked in a hot oven, our 8-slice pizza ($5.75) arrived cracker-crisp in four minutes flat. The melted layer of provolone and mozzarella came topped with thin-sliced pepperoni and a dusting of Italian seasoning.
Pildner says other items are in the works, including a unique pita dessert. For now, the shop carries pastries from local bakeries.
"I think the smartest thing a new restaurant can do is to start slow," he says. "I have spent a lot of time in restaurants, and I have seen why they fail and succeed."
Being a tech whiz doesn't hurt either. Cyclones Pitas rewards its Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare followers with daily deals like the $7 special, which includes a drink and a big bag of Shearer's chips. The shop also offers free Wi-Fi.
If getting fired was the cloud over Pildner's career path, Cyclones Pitas has turned out to be the silver lining.
"I'm flat-broke," he says grinning. "But I'm happy."