Rising ice cream chain Salt & Straw has star power on its executive team and in its boardroom. But it might have just landed its highest-profile backer to date. Actor and former wrestling icon Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, along with business partner and producer Dany Garcia, invested an undisclosed amount in the 19-unit brand, the company announced.
Garcia, CEO and chairwoman of the Garcia Companies and TGC Management, told Fast Company in a statement, “Salt & Straw’s proven commitment to connecting with local communities through their storytelling and creativity make this strategic investment a natural fit. We’re thrilled to provide our expertise to build upon their forward-thinking and disruptive approach that has delighted consumers and inspired meaningful brand experiences.”
LISTEN: Kim Malek talks with QSR about Salt & Straw's origins, growth plans
Johnson, who famously travels with 40,000 pounds of workout equipment when filming movies, wrote on Instagram, “#sundaycheatmeal keeps rollin' on as I bring new meaning to the word, gluttony one bite at a time.” It was accompanied by a photo of three pints of Salt & Straw ice cream and pancakes.
Salt & Straw marked the partnership with a “Dwanta Claus”-inspired group of holiday flavors. The company announced that Johnson and Garcia will serve as creative partners and advisors as it grows.
Salt & Straw was founded by Kim Malek and her cousin, Tayler Malek, in 2011 in Portland, Oregon. Malek was a Starbucks vet who joined the java giant when it had just 30 shops. She began as a barista and later joined its corporate marketing and communications team. By the time she moved on, having learned directly from then-CEO Howard Schultz, Starbucks had 3,000 locations.
Malek first had the idea for a shop in the late 1990s, but it took more than a decade for the idea to come to fruition. She worked at several global companies, including Starbucks and Yahoo!
Salt & Straw also notably counts Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer as an investor and board member. The Union Square Hospitality Group visionary joined May 2017 after adding an undisclosed amount through the company’s newly formed investment arm.
That same year, Salt & Straw took on a “substantial investment” from Greenwich, Connecticut-based KarpReilly as well.
The brand has enjoyed some recent support, too. In May, Oregon Venture Fund (formerly the Oregon Angel Fund) invested $2 million and another $2.2 million was raised by individual investors as a sidecar. The company said the funds would seed an artisan food incubator program, and improve the chain’s technological footprint. The incubator model looks for new food producers that can then work with Salt & Straw.
Malek told Oregon Live fund partner Matt Compton, a former Yahoo executive and chief operating officer at online banker Simple, offered assistance and advice, including sitting in on interviews with potential hires. “We have a pretty nicely growing direct to consumer business—until recently I called it mail order, which just shows that I came of age in the 80s—that we’ve never really paid any attention to,” Malek told the publication. “We’d like to start developing that part of the business, as well as our third-party delivery, Postmates, etc. We want to be able to more consistently offer the excellent experience that people have come to expect in our stores, wherever they might find us.”
Salt & Straw is known for outside-the-box flavors, like Pear & Blue Cheese, Strawberry Honey Balsamic with Black Pepper, and Black Olive Brittle & Goat Cheese. Its Thanksgiving-themed menu in November featured flavors like Spiced Goat Cheese & Pumpkin Pie, Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey, and Roasted Peach & Sage Cornbread Stuffing. A portion of Salt & Straw’s menu changes every month.
Salt & Straw has foraged ingredients for flavors, partnered with local artisans, worked with immigrants to tell their story through ice cream, and even once had a symphony play in the kitchen while it developed a new product.
Customers have compared trying various Salt & Straw samples to a wine tasting.
There are currently restaurants in Portland, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, and Anaheim.