My hometown of Denver has long been a crucible for new fast-casual restaurants. Noodles & Company, Qdoba, and, of course, Chipotle all originated there, and new concepts keep popping up all the time.
Marley Hodgson, the founder of a Denver-based fast-casual concept called Mad Greens, stopped by the NRN booth at the NRA show today to talk about what he’s been doing lately. And what he’s been doing is displaying nutritional information about Mad Greens’ salads and sandwiches at all 11 locations.
Chain restaurants with 20 or more units are pretty much all wondering how requirements to post calorie information on their menus and menu boards are going to affect sales.
Early reports from markets like New York and California where labeling already is required indicate that they don’t have much to worry about: There’s a brief disruption for a couple of weeks as customers assimilate the new information, and then most of them just go back to what they were ordering before.
But Hodgson says his health-conscious customers on Colorado’s health-conscious front line — Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs — have not been so fickle. Sure, the Cobb salad is still popular, but since he started posting calorie and other nutritional information at the beginning of the year, sales of that item have definitely gone down in favor of items with less bacon and cheese. Low-calorie salad dressings have become more popular, and vinaigrettes are capturing market share from Ranch and Thousand Island.
Hodgson and his business partner, Dan Long, met when they were studying at Colorado College in Colorado Springs (Hodgson got a degree in biology with the idea of being a doctor, something he quickly decided against). They both had a restaurant background: Long had been a Wall Street trader until he decided to go to school at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
Hodgson, a New York native (Full Disclosure: he went to high school with Penton Restaurant Group publisher Randall Friedman, who knows him as “Buckey”) ran a 250-seat brewpub in Norwalk, Conn., after college and then went back to Colorado where he was head line chef at Barolo Grill in Denver, and then had a brief stint at Kevin Taylor’s Zenith restaurant.
After getting an MBA from the University of Colorado, he and Long opened Mad Greens in Denver’s Southeastern suburbs, on the Arapahoe-Douglas County border, and he’s been focusing on that ever since — that and his two kids, ages 4 and 7.
Fun fact about Mad Greens: every menu item is named after a crazy person. That Cobb salad is actually called the Ty Cobb. Their Cuban panini is the Castro. The Ernest Hemingway has spinach, cucumbers, mandarin oranges, red onions and toasted almonds. The Don Quixote has baby greens, mango, avocado, roasted corn & jack cheese.
A seasonal special, the Aphrodite, has baby greens, cucumbers, mozzarella, almonds, strawberries and shallot-tarragon vinaigrette.