Nearly 15 years ago, a group of five restaurant franchisees became close after attending the same conferences and serving on various boards and committees. Those franchisees ran multiple restaurants for major brands, from Papa Johns and Qdoba to Rally’s, Long John’s Silvers, and Jersey Mike’s.
Whenever they got together, they ideated about starting their own concept, one that was franchisee-led rather than franchisor. Eventually, Brian Mills and Allen Hertzman decided to stop ideating and start researching, so they spent a year looking at different concepts to pull some learnings, and they landed on salad as their focal point. The two recruited Philip Horn, Patrick Gaunce, and Wade Oney to join them and the group of business owners — who collectively operate more than 400 restaurants across the country — started a new concept called CHOP5 Salad Kitchen (5 being a nod to the five founders).
CHOP5 opened its first location in 2016 near Ohio State University’s campus in Columbus, Ohio. Since then, two more locations have opened: a second in Columbus and a location in Orlando, Fla.
“We were thinking maybe we haven’t been feeding people the healthiest stuff, so that’s why we went into the salad category. If we can get the groundwork built, we can be part of taking healthier food to more people,” Mills said. “Still, we didn’t want to push that idea of healthier, because sometimes salads aren’t necessarily healthier. It’s the consumer who puts us into that category.”
Indeed, it was one of CHOP5’s customers who came up with the brand’s tagline, “Eat with no regrets.” Salads may not always be healthier, but they have the perception of being so, and as the growing demand for healthy-halo options is largely being driven by younger consumers, CHOP5 finds itself striking while the iron heats up.
As the category picks up, CHOP5 differentiates itself by offering its chef-created chopped salads. Mills said you could eat them with a spoon, which makes them easier and, therefore, more desirable among consumers. The concept features an assembly line model, similar to Chipotle, with build-your-own salads for around $10 and average check sizes closer to $20 with add-ons. The menu also includes signature chopped salads, signature rice bowls, soups and sides, plus a kid’s menu. The company features eight signature dressings, like avocado green goddess and pear thyme vinaigrette, as well as nine classic dressings. There is also the option to choose one of 11 drizzles, from wasabi crème drizzle to Korean BBQ drizzle. Mills said the dressings and drizzles are “powered up” so the flavor profile remains strong when they’re added to a salad.
In addition to sharpening the menu, CHOP5 is also prioritizing customer service. Mills said the founders want to have a concept that is transparent — for guests and for franchisees. On the guest side, that means hiring people with soft skills and an ability to treat guests politely — “as though they’re in grandma’s kitchen” — without needing scripts to do so.
“A lot of fast-casual experiences now are just scoop and serve. There is no great interaction, engagement. We’re going to get tired of just walking up to kiosks and ordering, I believe,” he said. “Food and service. You can’t have one without the other. Once people realized they liked our service, we started getting a lot of repeat customers coming in two, three times a week.”
To leverage this growing demand, the company recently partnered with third-party platform Conscious Capital Growth to accelerate franchising sales and development. This partnership came about when Mills said the company wasn’t getting the right franchisee candidates to grow the company the way the founders wanted.
“We know we need to find people like us. One thing we know is what it takes to be successful in this business, so we’re being choosy,” he said.
Because of that, there is no set growth target. Though, with Conscious Capital on board, Mills expects about five franchised locations to open by the end of this year. There is also the potential for three or four corporate stores within that timeframe.
“Our priority is making sure we get the right people and what they need to be successful. We’ve been patient and will continue to be,” he said. “I’ve seen plenty of brands come out and sell 150 or so stores, opening stores left and right, and many are failing. I do not want to be that. We all know what it’s like to put your own money up, and I think that is what will continue to set us apart.”
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]
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