The made-to-order salad brand, Salata is one of many healthy food brands that can be seen in the F&B industry today. But unlike many, Salata was born in 2005, when founder Berge Simonian recognized the need for such a brand in Houston’s business districts.
However, it’s still a difficult industry to maintain a sense of differentiation, but Salata has done so for 17 years. With a very simple store layout and flexible footprint options, the brand has managed to attract franchisees since 2006, when the brand first introduced its franchise opportunity
Today, Salata has over 80 locations across Texas, Georgia, Southern California, Louisiana, and North Carolina. Banking on the increased importance of choosing healthy options, Salata hopes to ride this wave to domestic domination. Julie Davis, Salata’s vice president of franchise development, spoke to us about the brand’s history, what defines it and the importance of mobile apps for F&B brands.
RP: What is the brand’s origin story, and why was it created?
JD: Berge Simonian, our founder and CEO, started it in the downtown tunnels, the central business district of Houston. Houston is one of the largest metropolitans in the United States, and it operates through a tunnel system.
“This is something different, this is unique. You really need to want to create that experience for your guests; this isn’t a $5 meal”
He brought this concept into the tunnels. His original menu was a more developed culinary concept, but it was the restaurant salad bar that the guests loved above all. They especially appreciated that they could add any number of toppings or proteins to their salads, and Berge quickly realized that he could serve this sizeable niche market in 2005.
There was a huge void in the marketplace for this kind of a lunch and dinner option. Once it was solidified, the proof of concept was established in 2005, and began franchising in 2006. It quickly caught the attention of friends and family in the first handful of years, it was organic growth that fueled the expansion.
RP: The healthy fast-casual and fast-food market is one that is constantly expanding with new brands, how do you continue to differentiate yourself from the rest of the market?
JD: It’s very simple. Post-pandemic, consumers want to be in control. We have more than 50 fresh ingredients that guests get to choose and create their meals; it can be tailored to their tastes and their lifestyle. By giving that control to the customer versus somebody having to order a pre-set salad really gives the consumer an interaction; it creates loyalty and an opportunity to see us every day because they can get something different and it’s of their choosing.
From an investor standpoint, our uniqueness comes from the flexibility of the real estate and the simplification of the operations since there is no heavy equipment. We don’t have any grease traps or vent hoods. Franchisees are able to customize from an investor’s standpoint and adapt what kind of space they go into.
You can run a lot with a limited crew, you don’t need the employees that it takes to run a full fast-food or QSR restaurant. It’s easier to attract employees to this, especially in this labor force. Our hours lend to a work-life balance. We’re not closing up a restaurant and getting home till 22:30 at night. Our core hours are 10:45 to 20:00 or 21:00; and it really depends on the trade area that dictates what those hours are. It offers that much-wanted flexibility to investors.
RP: What does the perfect Salata’s franchisee look like?
JD: Our franchise grew organically. You know, we have school teachers, restaurant operators, career change folks. So, the infrastructure of the brand was built early on by the people that loved the brand. Most of our franchisees came in because they were customers, they loved the product, and they wanted to be a part of it.
I don’t want to segue away from our existing franchisees who have gotten us to where we are; but when we look at scaling forward, we would love to find people who are passionate about this segment and delivering this product to their customers. First and foremost, it would be great to partner with franchisees that are experienced in food service, and experienced in development. But again, if they don’t have the passion for the brand, and they’re just looking to add something to their portfolio, that’s probably not the right fit for us.
This is something different, this is unique. You really need to want to create that experience for your guests; this isn’t a $5 meal.
“We don’t have any grease traps or vent hoods. Franchisees are able to customize from an investor standpoint and adapt what kind of space they can go into”
RP: How important is your mobile app to your business and future plans, and is it something every F&B brand needs to have?
JD: Absolutely, everybody needs a loyalty app. It is critical to our franchisees because we find that our app customers spend more and frequent our restaurants more often. We really try to promote our app so that we can take the customer that’s just trying us for the first time and convert them into a loyalty member so that they come more often. The app is integral in delivering messages, carrying out specials to our loyalty customers, and it’s just a great communication tool.
I became an app user completely when I started ordering from restaurants after COVID-19, it became a normal way to connect with your restaurant. Whether pre-COVID-19 or post-COVID-19, it’s become a critical tool for connecting with your customer.