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How one QSR deli is growing through food halls

Locali in Southern California is expanding through a licensing agreement with Local Kitchens

Health and convenience used to be an oxymoron. That was something that Melissa Rosen, founder of Southern California-based Locali, wanted to change with her concept. Locali was supposed to be a healthful convenience store when it first opened 14 years ago — something like 7-Eleven meets Whole Foods.

At the last moment, the team decided to throw in a deli table, inspired by Wawa and the White Hen Pantry in Chicago. That deli table turned out to be the most important last-minute decision the team could have ever made.

“That ended up actually taking off and became like 85% of our business,” Rosen said.

She and her team shifted from a business that was focused on grab-and-go to a business centered around the deli, with items like sandwiches, smoothies, and burritos.

Soon her food developed a cult-like following.

“We have a lot of our loyal, everyday, amazing customers that we've had that just love us for either the fact that we have an emphasis on health, or the fact that our food just tastes really flavorful,” she said. “We also have a ton of influencers as customers, and celebrities as well.”

But the food is about more than celebrities.

“We just wanted to create a place where people could connect to their food in a more thoughtful way,” Rosen said.

The two-unit chain is known for its vegan deli food — that’s what’s given it the reputation among celebrities and fans alike — and every sandwich comes vegan by default. If one wants a sandwich with meat or cheese at Locali, they have to ask for it.

“Food is medicine for the mind, body and spirit,” Rosen said.

The brand only uses the freshest ingredients it can find — as well as the freshest people.

“We're just making the food, and we always say quality ingredients have lots of love,” she said. “And I think people can taste that the people who are working and making your food are happy.”

An early adopter of the ghost kitchen movement, Locali is now moving into licensing agreements rather than franchising to grow. The quick-service brand recently entered a deal with Local Kitchens to license the Locali brand across its food halls. It’s opening in two of the halls within the next few weeks.

This is not the only way Locali will expand moving forward, however. Rosen says the brand still has its eyes on other means of expansion, whether that’s the non-traditional route or other licensing agreements.

Part of that expansion is through the brand’s consumer-packaged goods line. Pre-packaged salads and bowls are sold at juice bars, cafes and natural grocery stores across Southern California.

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