Jon Rollo wants customers to eat his restaurant’s food every day.
The founder of Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop was studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago when he began working with various restaurant groups. Through these experiences, he noticed disconnects between the food he served, the dishes being created, and the customers living a sustainable lifestyle.
“I started exploring what it would be like to be a concept that had a healthy menu and focused on menu items that people could eat every day, as opposed to the gluttonous, rich, decadent food that is often what makes restaurants garner great reputations but doesn’t necessarily make people want to come back the next day,” he says. “That’s how the mission of Greenleaf was originally founded: to focus on clean, healthy options that you would feel good eating and that I would be proud to serve my family and my friends.”
That idea has grown into seven locations across Southern California, with three more opening over the next year. Rollo plans to continue that growth with three to five locations each year, potentially in new markets as Greenleaf looks beyond its home base of Los Angeles and Orange County.
It wasn’t an easy start for the health-focused fast casual 2.0 when it first opened its doors eight years ago. The Great Recession had led many consumers to keep a closer eye on what’s in their wallets, but the brand quickly adapted to remain a relevant option. By offering delivery and catering services, Greenleaf was able to branch out and fuel its growth.
“All of a sudden, we went from a very easygoing crowd to a very limited audience because everyone in the world was fearful that their savings account and their pension and everything that they’d worked so hard for was going to disappear. The immediate result in the restaurant was we had a huge reduction in revenue,” Rollo says. “So instead of acquiescing to that, we buckled down and said, ‘If the customers aren’t going to be able to come to us, then we have to go to them.’”
Rollo says the brand’s catering represents a much lower price point than the fine-dining fare that special events planners and company party organizers typically turn to, while the food is still high-end, organic, and healthy.
Nevetheless, Rollo stresses that the food is on par with what many guests expect from a fine-dining establishment even though the cost is considerably less. To drive this point home, the brand focuses on creating an environment that exceeds guest expectations.
With on-site chef gardens, full bars at most locations, and indoor-outdoor patio seating, Greenleaf is as much an experience as it is a food destination. Locations average 2,800 square feet, and Greenleaf often hosts classes and invites children from local schools to take a tour and pick items from the gardens.
Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop
FOUNDERS: Jon Rollo
HQ: Los Angeles
YEAR STARTED: 2007
ANNUAL SALES: $2.5–$3.5 million per store
TOTAL UNITS: 7
FRANCHISE UNITS: 0
“The inspiration is always to make an environment that is comfortable, warm, open, and reflective of the menu,” Rollo says. “Without forcing anything, we always think about the integrity of the building and what would look and feel appropriate for the building. When you walk into a Greenleaf, you’re taken away from your busy day outside and transported into an environment that is casual and comfortable.”
During any given season in a Greenleaf garden, there will be a variety of produce, such as an early fall harvest of lemons, blueberries, grapefruit, limes, black kale, heirloom tomatoes, rhubarb, lavender, candy-striped beets, and an assortment of herbs.
Managed by each location’s culinary team, the gardens not only influence the food, but also the cocktails, which use fresh, seasonal ingredients.
“The word that we focus on always is fresh,” Rollo says. “To me and to Greenleaf, fresh means that day. This is product that was pulled that day, that came from a place within 60 miles and is from a farm that we know, from a farmer that we respect, and treated with the best care and served as quickly as possible from the field.”
Menu items include build-your-own salads with a base of either greens or grains; entrées such as Seared Salmon with beet-carrot purée and Chimichurri Vegetable Pasta; and even burgers, tacos, and pizza.
The food menu has also upped the ante for cocktail recipes outside of the traditional classic drinks, such as the Fig and Lemon—a bourbon cocktail with fig jam, honey, and lemon—and the Moscow Mule, which features activated charcoal, an ingredient purported to act as a detoxifier.
Greenleaf also offers to-go meals through its Grab n’ Go line, which has become so popular the restaurant built out a USDA-approved commissary to handle all production of the prepared meals. Greenleaf does not franchise its stores, and Rollo says the plan is to keep it that way.
“We’ve grown organically and we’ve grown very much through our own means, so as the team has grown and our abilities have grown, we’ve been able to accomplish more and more,” Rollo says. “And now having a slowly evolved team in place, we are able to open up a lot more units every year.”