Saladworks, a fast-casual salad chain, was so successful in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic that it became the basis of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based WOWorks, a company now encompassing six similar restaurants.
“It was really born out of Saladworks,” said Brian Farris, WOWorks’ chief development officer, of the new parent company. “Especially in the pandemic, people wanted to make better choices and take care of their health, and Saladworks fit that perfectly — the combination of being plant-forward and the ability to get exactly what you want [through customization].”
Farris said WOWorks CEO Kelly Roddy “recognized early on that we could reach more people with more brands that fit the same guiding principle.”
WOWorks was formed in December 2020 when Centre Lane Partners — which owned Saladworks and still owns WOWorks — acquired Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh and Frutta Bowls. The company added Barberitos Southwestern Grille and Cantina and Zoup Eatery to its portfolio this May, and it also owns The Simple Greek.
Saladworks in particular had a great 2021, with 16.3% growth in domestic systemwide sales and 10.7% growth in domestic units, to finish the year with 114. Farris attributes unit growth to the company’s franchising model.
“Having a stable of six brands, we’re able to provide growth opportunities for our franchisees who have infrastructure in their markets to be able to add brands in the markets where they live and the communities they serve,” he said.
Farris also credits his franchisees with keeping employees engaged during the labor crisis rocking the restaurant industry.
“You’re going to pay the prevailing rate for labor” no matter what, he said. “But that’s only part of why people want to work. You have to, No. 1, make it easy so they can be successful. And No. 2, you have to create an atmosphere where they’re cared for and they feel that. And our franchisees really go above and beyond to create that experience for their employees, and that helps us to retain good employees and attract better employees as well.”
He added that the overriding factor is “a sense of genuinely caring for the employees and creating a family experience. People will see through a program, they’ll see through a free smoothie, they can get that anywhere. That doesn’t really demonstrate that it comes from the heart.”
As for the inflation hampering the industry, Farris said Saladworks copes by continuing to look for opportunities to offer value in its restaurants.
“Be very thoughtful about your menu mix and the price increases that you have so you still create value in your restaurant,” he said.
When the chain has implemented menu price increases, he said, customers have been understanding and transactions haven’t dropped.
“This is where creating value becomes so, so important,” he said. “As long as you’re creating value, and you’re charging a fair price, your consumer’s going to come with you.”
Looking ahead, Saladworks and WOWorks alike are focused on continuing growth — both in sales and units.
“Being able to bring more choice to consumers in the communities that we serve is a really special part of what WOWorks is all about,” Farris said.
Contact Leigh Anne Zinsmeister at [email protected]
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