Having Words With: Tony Shure

Co-founder and president, Chop’t Creative Salad Company

Tony Shure and Colin McCabe, co-founders of the 15-unit fast-casual concept Chop’t Creative Salad Company, have partnered for a second year with the New York-based nonprofit program Wellness in the Schools.

WITS, which was founded in 2005 by Nancy Easton and chef-restaurateur Bill Telepan, serves healthful, freshly made lunches to 20,000 underprivileged New York City public school children each day.

As part of the program, Chop’t — a 2008 Nation’s Restaurant News Hot Concepts! Award winner — donated $25,000 to “adopt” P.S. 175 in New York’s Harlem neighborhood and supply a full-time “WITS-in-residence” chef to prepare fresh meals and help to train school staff.

Shure and McCabe also get involved personally, visiting the kids at the school and discussing the importance of healthful eating and other topics. The duo also has invited the students down to their Union Square location in Manhattan to help them learn more about nutrition.

Shure discussed the program and other chain-related topics with NRN.

EDUCATION: B.A. in English, New York University, by way of University of Wisconsin – Madison
PERSONAL: single
EXPERIENCE: worked in a seafood shop on Long Island, N.Y.; Chez Jose in Denver; Columbia Records; New Line Cinema

What made you get involved with WITS?

A lot of the children at the school get most of their meals there, in the form of breakfast, lunch and a home snack. WITS is about improving the food children in disadvantaged circumstances eat. We think it’s unfair that [kids are] expected to grow healthy minds and healthy bodies simply on cafeteria food. We don’t think it gives them what they need in their diets. We’d rather see them eat a celery stick or carrot stick than a fried chicken finger.
This generation of kids is facing obesity problems and childhood diabetes. Their eating habits are being formed now. We want to teach them something that will benefit them for their whole lives. In five years, kids’ meals will be radically different than they are today.

But do kids really choose salad over chicken fingers?

A lot of kids love salad. For one thing, it’s crunchy. At the end of lunch, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich bin has been emptied out, and so has the salad bin.

You and Colin McCabe get personally involved. What do you do?

We’ve gone up to the school and talked with the kids and teachers. We talk about food and let them tell us what they like. For instance, they told us they like wraps, so we’re coming up with some salad wraps for them.

So many of them are so bright. They have incredible questions. One asked whether we prepared food with liquid nitrogen [used by some chefs to freeze food items]. Their minds are incredible.

We’ve also had the kids down to visit the [Union Square] store for a day trip.

On a different tangent, what’s going on at Chop’t?

We’re building our 16th store right now. We’re pretty evenly distributed between New York and [Washington], D.C. We started our crawl into the suburbs last year [June 2011]. The Rye, N.Y., location [in suburban Westchester County] is one of our most successful stores, so all options for another market are open — in the suburbs of New York or D.C. or even Philadelphia.

Right now all locations are company owned. Any plans to franchise?

No franchising, no licensing. But that doesn’t mean never. I think first we need to be in a place where we could truly support our franchisees. Meanwhile, growth is self-funded.

In New York, you’ve been dealing with mandatory menu labeling for awhile. How has that affected business?

People can eat as healthy as they want here. We post the calories, so people can create a salad that’s high in calories or light. For some people that means ordering edamame; for others, it’s fried chicken. Either way, it’ll be delicious. It’s always been our intention to be as healthy as the customers want us to be.

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected] [2].