“We were plant-based before plant-based was cool.”
Kelly Roddy, CEO of Woworks, is determined to grow this company into one of the largest plant-based and good-for-you companies in the restaurant sector. It currently encompasses chains Frutta Bowls, Saladworks, Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh and Simple Greek.
“Our goal is to grow Woworks to be one of the largest holding companies in the U.S.,” Roddy said. “The world didn’t need just another restaurant holding company.”
Roddy thinks that having a mission making the Woworks brands stand apart – healthy food – will help accomplish this goal.
Formed in 2020, Woworks is owned by Centre Lane Partners LLC, already the parent company of Saladworks. It appointed Rodd, the fast-casual brand’s CEO, to lead the new company in December 2020.
The Saladworks team took over infrastructure for the new holding company and operations, but six months after that announcement, Roddy said that it’s been more collaborative than that.
The restaurants now within the Woworks portfolio had around 92 combined units just two years ago, but the company is standing strong at 250 today with another 55 in the works by the end of 2021, Roddy said.
But they’re not growing without thought.
“It's tempting to go after those segments that have been hot during the pandemic,” Roddy told NRN in January. “But we believe customers are definitely going to be looking for products that are good for you and that food is fuel for your body. And if your brand isn't aligned with that, then that's not a brand that we were looking to bring into the portfolio.”
At this time, Woworks is opening around one to two new units every week, while 2022 should see two to three restaurants open every single week if projections hold up. That includes an expansion out West and possibly another brand acquisition.
“I predict we’ll have another brand in our portfolio by this time next year,” Roddy said.
And while the company is growing in many non-traditional spaces – Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh just opened at the Salt Lake City airport – Roddy sees potential everywhere.
“When you look at the new non-traditional like ghost kitchens and virtual brands, there’s so much out there and we’re just dipping our toe into [them]. There’s so much more opportunity,” he said.
Saladworks saw growth in the hospital sector and inked a deal with Walmart, where it runs ghost kitchens in Walmart stores. That late March announcement will add 90 units to the Saladworks portfolio in the U.S. and Canada by the end of 2021. The locations will offer seating, carry-out and third-party delivery.
Saladworks also opened in Giant Food stores as non-traditional units, not ghost kitchens.
Those units join the brand’s existing presence in hospitals where, during COVID, its salad robot helped deliver food to patients safely.
“We’re literally in every single venue you can imagine,” said Roddy.
That includes the California debut of Frutta Bowls, part of a franchise agreement with SteelCraft, an outdoor eatery concept that uses shipping containers as restaurant space.
And it’s not just non-traditional spaces; the holding company is taking its shared vision into co-branded spaces too.
The second Saladworks/Frutta Bowls combination store just opened and it’s doing twice its estimated profit, according to Roddy, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He suspects it will be a model for the future.
Sales have been so strong at the unit that Roddy wondered “why you would ever open a Saladworks without a Frutta Bowls in the future.”
Roddy suspects that there could be more co-branded spaces in the future and that any brand purchased by Woworks would have to fit in with the others as a possible co-branded concept.
Though Woworks purchased Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh out of bankruptcy in December, Woworks isn’t looking to buy failed brands or older brands.
“We talked to other brands, but we didn’t feel like they were necessarily good for you or where the puck is going,” said Roddy. “We care about brands where the future of food is.”