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Salad and Go CEO Charlie Morrison said Salad and Go’s disruption of its category is intentional.

Salad and Go accelerates growth, brings farm-to-fork menu to the masses

Ten-year-old Arizona-based restaurant ends 2022 with 82 units, and has surpassed 100 this year.

Salad and Go is shaking up the healthful food segment, improving access to healthful food through drive-thru and walk-up units while vertically integrating its supply chain.

Charlie Morrison, who was named CEO of the Phoenix-based brand in 2022 after helping build the Dallas-based Wingstop into a national juggernaut and taking it public, said Salad and Go’s disruption of its category is intentional.

The salad concept posted a compound annual growth rate of 115.8% in the Top 500, increasing from 38 units at the end of 2021 to 82 units at the end of 2022. Salad and Go’s annual sales in the Top 500 grew 166.3%, up to $76.2 million at the end of 2022 from $28.6 million at the end of 2021.

Salad and Go offers breakfast burritos and lunch and dinner soups and salads, created by chef Daniel Patino, with a menu supplied by its own preparation and distribution centers. Average salads and burritos are priced at $6.42. The Top 500 estimated annual sales per unit rose $11.3%, from $970,000 in 2021 to $1.1 million in 2022.

Founded in 2013 in Gilbert, Ariz., Salad and Go in mid-May 2023 opened its 100th unit in Las Vegas. It has two food production facilities that serve stores across Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas.

The founders and chef, Morrison said, wanted to provide “fresh and affordable and healthy and convenient food that can be available to all.”

“[They] built a concept around salads and bringing fresh produce straight from the farm to your fork within very few days — of perfecting dressings that are made from ingredients that are healthy and good for you, not just fattening, and they don't have all the additives, preservatives and everything else that's necessary to make them shelf stable,” Morrison said.

Distribution is through a supply chain that’s built from the ground up and vertically integrated. “Now we're on a pace to really develop this concept and accelerate it,” he said.

Morrison had joined Salad and Go's board of directors in November 2020. When the opportunity arose for the board to appoint a new CEO to scale the brand, Morrison nominated himself and was unanimously selected, leaving the 1,800-unit Wingstop, where he served as CEO and chairman for nearly a decade. He earlier had worked with Pizza Hut, Steak and Ale Restaurants, Kinko's, Pie Five Pizza Co. and Boston Market.

Morrison said that when he was recruited for Salad and Go’s board in 2020, “there were a lot of elements about this brand that made sense to me. In the world of quick-service restaurants, price and value are certainly the name of the game. Speed is important. But opportunities for healthy choices didn't exist.

“So to be able to see a brand that's able to deliver a really fresh, healthy, good-for-you product with the speed and convenience of QSR at a price point that beats even most casual-dining today,” he added, “I was really attracted to that.”

Morrison said he sees potential for thousands of Salad and Go locations in the U.S.

“We sell a salad in a 48-ounce bowl with a protein — and that can be chicken or tofu — for $6.42,” he said. “And we offer a lineup of eight robust salads that you can pick up from our menu or you can build your own any way you want it through our double drive-thru format.”

The supply chain is the secret to the low prices, he said. “We believe that the way to make that happen is to vertically integrate, go straight to the growers and eliminate a lot of the steps in the supply chain that typically exist in today's restaurant environment,” Morrison said. “That keeps a number of things in play: No. 1, we're able to have really fresh, high-quality food that has a very short shelf life — it’s five days from the farm to your fork. Second, we build all of the products and prepare them all in a large central commissary.”

A typical commissary is designed to serve about 400 individual retail locations, he added.

“Different than typical restaurants, where you'd have a large kitchen in the back, our restaurants don't have kitchens,” Morrison said. “They have an assembly area and a large walk-in cooler, but all the rest of the preparation of our ingredients, the making of our dressings, the cutting and washing of the vegetables, [and] the preparation of all the elements that go into it are done in a central facility.”

That lets the store personnel focus on the guest, Morrison said.

Growth for the immediate future will be in Oklahoma and Texas. Morrison said the company anticipates going into Southern California very soon, but for the near-term is focusing growth on existing markets and then heading east. The next centralized production facility, he said, would be somewhere in Florida to support growth in the Southeast.

The drive-thru model will remain, he added. “We've determined that the dining room is a nice-to-have but not an essential for what we're trying to do,” Morrison said. “And that helps us continue to make it much more affordable and accessible for the customer.”

Staffing at each unit can be as low as three people per shift because a lot of the food production and preparation is done in the central facility with skilled workers who Morrison said earn “a very attractive wage to do that.”

Operating hours are generally 6:30 a.m. — for breakfast burritos and coffee or cold brew — until 9 p.m.

The real estate requirements are diverse, Morrison added.

“We can exist anywhere,” he said. “We have a very small footprint, so we can drop a store into a pad site in a parking lot of a large anchored center in as little as 12,000-15,000 square feet of space (including the drive thru and limited parking). That's very unusual in quick-service restaurants.”

Demographics for the brand are also diverse, he said. “We know that everybody wants access to healthy choices, but those are not always affordable,” Morrison said. “We've identified a way to do that and provide affordability as well, so we can really put our stores anywhere we don't have a prioritization, which opens up a lot of real estate access for us in every market.”

“It's a simple concept with a grand plan,” he added. “We've designed the brand to stay value-oriented and then find efficiencies in our processes that we can pass back to the customer. To us, that's paramount. We will always maintain a strong price position, a lot of pricing power.

“I think,” he added, “that's a great way to develop a moat around your business and grow it for a long term.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

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