At any given Coolgreens location, it’s not unusual to find tables and chairs pushed out of the way to make room for fitness classes.
“The classes are well attended,” says Clay Carson, Coolgreens vice president of franchise development. “I can’t think of one class attended by fewer than 15 people, and when we had a nutritionist come in, we had as many as 45 people.”
Coolgreens’ focus on healthy eating and fitness is woven into the brand’s DNA. After all, the founder was a marathon runner looking for a place to eat in the Midwest—a market he viewed as saturated with dietary demons like saturated fats.
That runner was Tom Wolfe, an attorney who noticed the growing glut of better-for-you dining options while visiting his daughter in the Washington, D.C. area.
After returning to Oklahoma City, he contacted two local restaurateurs and laid out the idea that eventually became the Coolgreens concept.
Like Wolfe, Robert Lee—Coolgreens CEO since 2014—came to the brand through a passion for healthy eating. After dining at the very first location, Lee approached the founder with interest in becoming a franchisee.
That was nearly a decade ago, and at the time, the concept wasn’t yet set up for franchising, so his request was denied. He did, however, become an investor and eventually joined the management team. Then, in early 2017, Carson came onboard when Coolgreens was finally ready to create a franchising system.
As a whole, the salad category has a somewhat undeserved reputation for lacking substantive, hearty menu options. But Carson says the brand’s selection of filling foods is one thing that makes Coolgreens different from “90 percent of salad places.”
“Guys are not catered to in typical salad places,” Carson says. “Coolgreens saw an opportunity being missed and introduced grain bowls. We also weren’t afraid to put sandwiches on the menu.”
Half of Coolgreens sales are salads, 18 percent are wraps, and the rest are made up of grain bowls, sandwiches, and flatbread pizzas. So while those bulkier items aren’t a huge portion of sales, they have helped Coolgreens eliminate the veto vote and increase dinnertime traffic. The lunch/dinner split for Coolgreens is 60/40, whereas Carson says a typical salad concept generates 70 percent of its sales at lunch. He adds that catering accounts for 12 percent of the brand’s gross sales—and it’s growing. “Because what we offer is different and very portable, catering will be a real focus moving forward,” he says.
CEO: Robert Lee
HEADQUARTERS: Oklahoma City
YEAR STARTED: 2009
AVERAGE UNIT VOLUME: $803,000
TOTAL UNITS: 8
FRANCHISE UNITS: 2
Coolgreens offers a build-your-own salad option where guests choose their greens, proteins, toppings, and dressings. Signature salads are also available, and the bestseller is the California Cobb consisting of romaine, egg, avocado, bacon, turkey, blue cheese, tomato, chives, and ranch dressing. It weighs in at 649 calories and is priced at $12.
Guests on the go can turn any of the salads into a wrap or choose special, limited-time wraps like the Fireside Combo with grilled steak, kale, butternut squash, cauliflower, craisins, candied pecans, and blue cheese within a jalapeño cheddar wrap
The quinoa bowls include flavor inspirations from Asia and Mexico. The California, for example, features red peppers, pan-seared chicken, cucumber, grape tomatoes, toasted pecans, and avocado served atop a blend of quinoa and brown rice with a lemon and herb dressing.
Carson says an average per-person ticket at Coolgreens is between $12.50 and $12.74.
“Everything is made in house,” he says. “We prep everything on an hourly basis. We cut everything in small batches; that maintains visual appeal and freshness. We cut everything on the line so customers see this.”
The best-selling sandwich is the Turkey Pesto with mozzarella, mixed greens, and balsamic vinaigrette on a wheat bun, weighing in at 575 calories for $8. Quinoa bowls and flatbread pizzas round out the menu. In addition, Coolgreens serves fresh-made soup every day and limited-time offers focused on in-season produce.
In its first eight years of operation, Coolgreens grew from one to seven traditional locations, plus an airport unit.
By the end of 2018, Carson says, at least four to six additional locations will be open in Oklahoma and Texas. By 2020, he says, the plan is to have 40 open units and another 50 in the pipeline. Growth will be accelerated by the fact that Coolgreens has set a franchising minimum of three units per agreement and is approving only applicants with prior experience.
A typical Coolgreens is about 2,000 square feet. Carson says Coolgreens stores have been new constructions, but conversions would be considered if the site were a good fit for the brand. Location is critical in growing the brand.
“We look to go into the same sub markets as LA Fitness, Life Time Fitness, Pure Barre, and places like that,” Carson says. “What we look for is a solid daytime business space. We look for schools and a nighttime weekend residential population as well—basically the second ring in a metropolitan area. We can’t get too suburban or we won’t have that daytime business, but if we get too urban, we don’t get night and weekend business.”