Have you ever wondered how a company decides where to expand its concept? For Saladworks it all started with an algorithm.
When Saladworks CEO Patrick Sugrue was looking for the next place to expand its East Coast-based healthful food concept, his company came up with a regression analysis that it then applied to every market across the United States, and Dallas-Fort Worth came out on top.
The analysis looked at the predictors of a successful Saladworks location by taking in the data from day and nighttime population, traffic trends and the number of office parks to hospital beds in and around the area, and where competitors were located. Once it had that information, Saladworks used it to get a predictive model within its current market, to apply outward when looking for expansion opportunities.
“We looked at the opportunity per capita and one of the highest markets was [D-FW],” Sugrue said. “It was a very quantitative process that identified [D-FW] to be one of the great markets to expand.”
But it’s also bigger than that.
While at a granular level these collected data told Saladworks the market was ripe for opportunity, he says he understands that at a macro level, “There’s an immense change going on in food right now.”
This change, he explained, is driven by three major trends, all of which made the Dallas-Fort Worth market desirable for more business.
First, Sugrue said, there is a demographic shift from businesses’s reliance on knowing and serving baby boomers to the recognition that the single largest demographic group out there is now the millennials. And as millennials’ preferences and trends emerge, the world of food will change, he said, adding that the emergence of millennials as a dominant group is as prevalent in D-FW as in any market he’s seen.
Second, there is an immense difference in people’s knowledge around food – their understanding of food and ingredients, where food comes from, how it’s made. And not only do they know more, but they care more, Sugrue explained. He added that he finds the food culture and the number of restaurant companies based in D-FW “amazing.”
Third is the presence of technology in the research, selection and evaluation of food and food service. Technology has enabled a redefinition of what good customer service is to every customer, Sugrue said. It could be in delivery or to-go ordering and ease of pick-up. Because of the growth in D-FW and the new concepts always coming about, there isn’t a heavy reliance on legacy restaurants, Sugrue said. That allows the “newest, latest and greatest technologies” to be deployed in new ways in new concepts being built, he said.
“I find [D-FW] is kinda like they say about going on Broadway, ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,’” Sugrue said. “For us, D-FW is so important because if we can compete and demonstrate a relevance of our menu and our service model and our brand in D-FW, I feel very good about where else we can take this brand.”
Saladworks has one location open in Irving and expects to open a location in Southlake’s Gateway Plaza this summer and in Fort Worth’s Citadel complex in the fall.
For both buildings in progress, the leases are signed and Saladworks is waiting for permits so construction can begin. Saladworks is also scouting real estate in Frisco and Dallas to try to bring more stores to the market.
But, Sugrue says, the occupancy level in D-FW is incredibly high.
“There’s very little idle real estate sitting out there in [D-FW], so you’re not just going to go drive the market and have 10 choices of something you can move into in the next 30-60 days,” he said. “What we’re seeing is our development in [D-FW] requires us to go to properties that are either on the drawing board or coming out of the ground, which means that we’ll be 6 to 24 months before we can actually open the store.”
“So the development is going to take longer than we’d like,” he continued. “But we think it’s worth the wait in [D-FW].”
Saladworks is also talking with airports and colleges around the Metroplex to have as many channels open to compete and serve in as possible, Sugrue said.
Saladworks debuted at the Cherry Hill Mall in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, in 1986. Though the company now has close to 100 stores across 14 states and three in other countries, it is still deeply distributed across the northeastern United States in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
Sugrue explained that the idea for Saladworks came from a chef who worked at a male-dominated golf course who wanted to bring salads out of the female low-calorie lunch option and into a place where even self-proclaimed manly men would eat them. The chef noticed that with the right combination of proteins and dressings, salads could be an attractive entree for men as well
So as the idea developed, Saladworks’s thesis became that eating healthily is not specific to one gender or one type of meal plan. So, Sugrue said, they provide choice and variety in protein, fruit, vegetables and dressing so that whether the consumer is a vegetarian or vegan or eats meat at every meal, there’s something for everyone.
“We call it choice and control. I can control exactly what goes on my salad, and I’ve got choices from literally millions of different mathematical combinations of salads,” he said. “And that really is what drives the magic with Saladworks.”
In Saladworks’s early days, with about 12 to 20 stores, it decided to franchise. Since then it has grown to almost 100 locations. During that process, Sugrue said, the company realized it needed to focus on getting more people into the brand and into the concept.
That’s where Sugrue came in.
He holds an undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and an MBA from the Goizueta Business School at Emory University in Georgia.
At 57, Sugrue has worked in the food, beverage and restaurant business all of his career, from working between the product and the restaurants and stores that would stock it, to managing businesses, buying them and turning them around.
Just over two years ago a call from Centre Lane Partners brought Sugrue to Saladworks to execute a turnaround and bring change, vibrancy and experience to the eatery.
“We had a lot of legacy stores that were old and tired,” he said. “We remodeled, or refreshed, 90 percent of our stores — spending close to $5 million in capital expenditures to update them with a new look and feel.”
The stores now feature earth tones and wood grains in the design and have added “Refresh, Reconnect and Recharge” stations. The idea, Sugrue said, is to let people on their lunch break come in and get a refreshing meal —a salad, drink, toast, wrap, grain bowl, etc. — and reconnect with others through email and social media while their phone recharges at the USB and electrical ports provided in the store.
“That occasion is something we’ve really built, as we’ve done these remodels, to make our brand relevant to today’s consumer,” he said.
But it isn’t just about ambiance, because all the USBs and earth tones in the world can’t make up for bad food. Sugrue says being in an area where the focus is a plant-based diet is exciting because that’s what the modern consumer is trending toward.
“In our case, what people sometimes forget is we eat with our eyes, we eat with our nose, we eat with our senses — and first and foremost we got to have delicious food,” he said. “The ingredients have been designed to come together in a symphony of colors and taste and textures. And [diners] can walk out feeling satiated that they got a full meal, yet the average entrée is probably 450-500 calories with the dressing.”