UNH trailer

Hungry students line up for late-night fare at UNH’s Pita Pit trailer in the middle of campus. Photos by Richard R. LeHoullier, University Hospitality Services

Trailer offers late-night option at college

A branded mobile eatery sets up in underserved area of campus from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday nights at the University of New Hampshire.

Students at the University of New Hampshire (UNH) now have an additional late-night dining option on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. That’s because dining services recently rolled out a branded Pita Pit trailer that sets up shop from 7 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on those evenings in the center of campus, where no other nearby dining options are open at those times. That includes the school’s flagship Holloway Commons Dining Center, located in the area, which closes nightly at 9 p.m.

The Pita Pit trailer, which debuted the beginning of November, is an extension of the school’s existing franchise relationship with the chain, which already operates a traditional indoor station elsewhere on campus, says Richard LeHoullier of UNH Hospitality Services.

“To get [a different chain] franchise, we’re talking a minimum of $10,000 or more, so right off the bat it saves us money by using the existing franchising,” he explains.

Furthermore, LeHoullier adds, the concept is already popular with students “and with the healthy initiatives going on around education, we felt that it would…be in line with the strategic objectives of the university [for promoting wellness], and they would be more apt to approve us having a trailer on campus and support it if we supported their initiatives.”

LeHoullier says the traffic has been consistently building as the trailer’s presence becomes more generally known, despite the increasingly cold weather. Current nightly counts are around 41 transactions.

“I think in the springtime when students are hanging around outside there’ll be more of a following. [Right now] they’re just finding out about it and we’re using this time to introduce the trailer and get some marketing out there so next semester when we’ve established some traffic patterns and buying habits, I think it’ll grow.”

Furthermore, LeHoullier says operating hours will be adjusted next semester, with the trailer opening later, at 8 p.m. but staying open until 1:30 a.m. in order to capture more of the traditional late-night crowd, which generally starts kicking in around 11 p.m. It will also begin operating on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in addition to its current Thursday to Saturday schedule.

The 22-foot trailer unit was purchased from vendor Concession Nation because the company had already designed a trailer for Pita Pit for another client, so that saved development costs. It has an advantage over a truck not only in cost but also in that its smaller footprint is easier to accommodate, LeHoullier offers.

The trailer is equipped with a six-foot deli unit, a three-foot griddle, a freezer, a refrigerator, a prep table with an under-counter refrigerator, a hand sink and a prep sink. New Hampshire doesn’t require a three-bay sink on a trailer if most production is done in a separate kitchen, which is the case here as most pre-production takes place in the fixed-location Pita Pit unit’s kitchen and the trailer only does final assembly and finishing off. The trailer is generally staffed by three individuals: one on the prep station, one on the grill and one cashier.

Power comes from the campus grid. Though the trailer has a generator, it generally runs a line to its own dedicated power panels, one at its late-night location on the campus Quad and one at the football stadium (the trailer makes appearances here during games). On the Quad, this avoids any possible noise issue that running off a generator would pose in the late-evening hours.

The menu incorporates about half the fixed location’s offerings, selecting the Pita Pit chain’s most popular items to maximize efficiency and sales. Offerings on the trailer include plain, Caesar and Buffalo chicken pitas; the top-selling Philly steak pita and sub; and BLT, turkey, gyro, tuna and Greek-flavored chicken souvlaki pitas.

In addition to its late-night operations, the trailer also makes appearances at events like football games to support the concessions operations.

“During the summer we plan to use it for groups like Special Olympics, baseball playoffs and anyone who rents the stadium who needs concessions not on a large scale,” LeHoullier says. “That flexibility was one of the key selling points in getting the trailer.

The trailer itself is a test of a strategy to tap new retail revenue streams for the dining department, LeHoullier adds.

“If this trailer shows to be a success in the coming year, then we’ll possibly look at getting another one,” he says. 

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