FT. LAUDERDALE Fla. Jeff Levine and Mick Owens were no strangers to the restaurant business when they opened Salad Creations in 2003.
Owens, whose childhood neighbor was Wendy's founder Dave Thomas, practically grew up in the foodservice industry. He started out working in Wendy's franchise as a teen and eventually became vice president of operations for Wendy’s South Florida, where he helped to expand the Southeast market. He also served as vice president of operations for Kenny Rogers Roasters and most recently, he was chief operating officer for Roadhouse Grill.
Levine’s story began in New York where he owned and operated Brother Jimmy’s Barbecue, which continues to operate at several locations, though Levine is no longer involved. He also started a concept called Lulu’s Bait Shack and continues to serve as a managing member of Lulus Bait Shack Restaurant Group.
Before Salad Creations' debut, Levine, president and chief executive, said he was looking for something "that fit today’s lifestyle; something easier to operate, a little simpler. I wanted to design something I could franchise.”
Owens was introduced to Levine by John Y. Brown Jr., previous owner of KFC and former governor of Kentucky. Owens had worked with Brown, who co-founded Kenny Rogers Roasters. After partnering with Owens, Levine's desire to launch his own concept soon inspired Salad Creations, which offers a menu of salads, wraps and soups.
Levine and Owens, chief operating officer, launched the first Salad Creations unit in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in 2003. The concept has since grown to 18 locations in nine states, including Arizona, Florida and Georgia, with international locations in Mexico, Trinidad and Puerto Rico.
Levine and Owens said they not only built the concept to provide a healthy fast food alternative, but also wanted a concept that continually offered different choices and variety. Some of the menu choices include providing wild Alaskan salmon as a premium protein ingredient and offering 18 different salad dressings that rotate availability on a quarterly basis.
“The more selection we can give them, the happier they are.” Levine said. “What we set out to do is give people a fresh choice and have people create what they wanted.”
Owens added, “Anyone that’s on any kind of diet can apply it with the create-your-own process.”
For $6.99 customers have a choice of lettuce and whatever ingredients they want as a “throw-in,“ including items such as pepperocini peppers, cheeses, sliced almonds and bean sprouts.
The price changes only if a protein item is added. For $2.25, customers can choose between additions like teriyaki chicken, roast beef and turkey. Wild Alaskan Salmon and fresh cooked shrimp are additional premium toppings available for $3.50. Salads can then be chopped or tossed.
Salad Creations also offers “Featured Salads,” like the Chopped Boca Veggie, priced at $5.99, made with romaine and iceberg lettuce, green bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, corn, chickpeas tomatoes, carrots and croutons; or the Gorgonzola & Greens, priced at $6.99, made with spring mix, Gorgonzola cheese, mandarin oranges, artichoke hearts, sunflower seeds and croutons.
“Let’s be honest," Hayes said. "We’re living in a health conscious world where it’s a lifestyle choice. It’s a great thing to be able to walk past one of our stores and you see what’s going on, like the chefs making the salads, and you see the lines…it’s very sexy.”
Salad Creations plans to open more than 40 locations through the end of 2007. The duo said 70 franchises have already been sold across the nation.
And when it comes to expansion plans, Levine and Owens follow a strict area developer model to ensure a successful growth rate. Levine explained that the area developer model is not a new concept and is used by quick-rolling concepts.
“We’ve got a partner in every territory and always hire regionally,” said Levine.
Franchise markets are broken down into market areas based on populations of 2.5 million. Interested parties, or area developers, are responsible for developing up to 50 units over a period of time. They operate and own a prototype and promote franchise growth while sharing in income from franchise fees and royalty fees in their territory. This way the company breaks down franchises into localized organizations.
“It allows us to grow rather quickly,” Levine said about choosing this particular franchise model.
Area developer and franchisee Vaughn Hayes, who operates a Salad Creations outlet in Charlottesville, Va., said he was impressed by the support he received from Salad Creations when he opened his franchise, which convinced him to take a bigger role in the concept and become an area developer. And more so, Hayes said he felt that he had a say in what happened with his business.
Hayes said: “With a young company you have a lot to say, which is what Salad Creations does — you have a say. If I felt that my market was different from the Florida market, I could implement testing for a regional product and if it works great, so be it. ”