The first saladworks opened in 1986 in Cherry Hill, N.J. -- a whole year before McDonald’s added salads to its menu. “We were selling salads before salads were cool,” says Saladworks’ new president and CEO, Patrick Sugrue. And it quickly got attention, separating itself from the sea of burgers, pizza and tacos that dominated the quick -- service landscape.
But now, 30 years later, the landscape has changed again -- and drastically. It seems that every fast-food concept, even Dairy Queen, offers a salad. Against this competition, Saladworks, now with roughly 100 locations, seemed in danger of becoming as boring as lettuce. Plus, the company was shaken by a years-long dispute between founder John Scardapane and investor Vernon Hill; it was resolved last year when the company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy and was snatched up by private-equity firm Centre Lane Partners.
The change at the top gave Conshohocken, Pa.-based Saladworks a fresh start. First up: the menu. “The idea of what goes into a salad is evolving,” Sugrue says, and Saladworks had to evolve with it. The Farmhouse Salad, for instance, includes roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash; it’s been a hit since it was added to the menu this past January. The revamped menu also added more “power food” ingredients, such as quinoa and kale. And Sugrue plans to keep the menu fresh with new ideas from franchisees. He also wants to solicit new recipes from chefs, especially those just graduating from culinary school. “We’re in a position to tap into not only their expertise but the fact that they are millennials and can help us create recipes that will appeal to new consumers.”
In addition to the menu, the whole brand is getting a makeover to look more upscale. Odom Architects out of Mobile, Ala., designed a store that will be smaller and more efficient, as well as more inviting and in sync with Saladworks’ earthy offerings. The result -- unveiled at the reopening of a Newtown, Pa., franchise store in February -- is awash in greens and browns (as opposed to its older, primary colors), with wood and brick accents, a slick digital menu board, communal tables and a wi-fi bar. “It really brings us into 2016 and beyond,” says Sugrue.
This year he expects to remodel at least five existing stores and build 11 with the updated design. Franchisees, he says, “still have a lot of energy for the brand” and are enthusiastic about the changes. Perhaps Saladworks can become a quick-service trailblazer once more.