When his go-to iced tea spot closed in 2012, Reed Allen Slobusky decided to replace it.
Attempting to serve all demographics in the area, the consultant-turned-restaurateur chose to split the menu in two: the Healthy Side with 600 calories or less per item, and the Happy Side, which is more about taste than calorie counting. His chef consultants had health-food backgrounds, but with the location being in a very industrial area of Las Vegas, Slobusky knew the concept needed to serve both the working man and the indulgers, too.
On the Healthy Side, Smoke in a Bowl has been on the menu from the beginning and proven to be a guest favorite with its agave barbecue chicken, peppers, onions, pineapple, black bean pico, and jasmine rice. “It’s got a lot of fresh vegetables,” Slobusky says. “It’s one of only a handful of dishes that has stayed on the menu the entire five years. We’re afraid to change it.”
On the Happy Side, customers will find options like the Cherry Popper burger—a half-pound beef patty with fried egg, pepper jack, spicy slaw, and pepper marmalade on a Hawaiian roll— and the Stuff on Curry bowl, a vegan dish with rice noodles, roasted corn, peppers, jalapeño, chickpeas, and a coconut curry sauce.
The Cherry Popper was actually an idea that Slobusky himself submitted to the culinary team. He encourages all his staff—both front and back of house—to submit ideas, whether the dish be a family recipe or just something the employee thinks would be tasty.
“We have a diverse client base, because we have a diverse group of people putting their ideas into the menu,” he says.
From the beginning, SkinnyFATS’ menu has also been Instagram-driven, producing on-trend and photogenic food. It can be tricky to know what will not just get a social media reaction, but also resonate with SkinnyFATS’ customers, Slobusky says. To avoid missteps, he checks in. “We pay attention to our customers and really just try to live and breathe feedback to create a restaurant that people want,” he says. One of the ways the concept engages customers is with the Customer of the Month program, where the staff submits regular guests to profile on SkinnyFATS’ website.
People are attracted to the concept because it satisfies groups in which everyone craves something different, Slobusky says.
Most items on SkinnyFATS’ menu are around $10–$11. Customers order at the counter, and the food is brought to them on porcelain plates to be eaten with silverware. “We try to push as many fine-dining details into the price point as possible,” he adds.
As for aesthetics, Slobusky is quick to point out that there are no bare walls. Originally the walls were covered with palette wood, but they’ve since evolved into unique barnwood. SkinnyFATS even commissioned artwork specifically for those spaces.
Above all, Slobusky strives for uniqueness, with the brand maintaining common elements among the stores, but none being the exact replica of another. “That’s paramount for us,” he says. “We call it ‘unchained,’ not falling into the traps of big chain restaurants in maintaining our uniqueness and agility in continuing to evolve the brand.”
FOUNDER/OWNER: Reed Allen Slobusky
HEADQUARTERS: Las Vegas
YEAR STARTED: 2013
ANNUAL SALES: $10 million
TOTAL UNITS: 4
FRANCHISED UNITS: 1
Another tenet of the company’s design philosophy is “built not bought,” Slobusky says. “We don’t go shopping, look at Pinterest accounts, or buy things off the internet to stock in the stores. Everything that can be built is built.”
As the brand expands across the country—it has plans for Dallas and Salt Lake City by year’s end—so, too, will its team of artists and makers. He plans to bring some existing artisan partners with him to the Dallas location to help seek new relationships with local artists.
And the Salt Lake City project will take even more of a team, as Slobusky plans for not just a SkinnyFATS location—which are typically around 4,000 square feet—but a 11,000-square-foot food hall that will host a SkinnyFATS and eight other concepts the brand plans to roll out.
“We’ve got quite a few concepts that we’ve been sitting on and waiting for the right opportunity to get out into the wild,” Slobusky says.
Expanding the concept was a no-brainer for Slobusky, as the locations have always done well since he opened his first in June 2013. The second followed a year later, and while there were growing pains, Slobusky and his team were able to strengthen the brand with intellectual property.
The Happymeter on SkinnyFATS’ cups and about 40 other elements of the brand are trademarked, including Catchup sauces that will soon be available for purchase in grocery chains nationwide. “It will give us a footprint from a branding standpoint in some markets before we arrive there with the restaurants,” he says of the sauces.
SkinnyFATS may be interested in expanding throughout the U.S. and internationally, but Slobusky says growth will be dependent upon its people. Rather than franchise one- or two-unit deals, the brand will seek partners in large markets.
“The biggest thing is to make sure the people you’re involved with are aligned with your vision,” Slobusky says. “You only have so much bandwidth. The important thing is just making sure the other people you’re with not only increase your bandwidth, but are running in the same direction.”