In 2009, Robert Lee started producing kidney stones, forcing the Dallas resident to reconsider his eating habits.

When the search for a healthier diet led him to Oklahoma City’s Coolgreens—a seven-unit fast casual specializing in fresh salads and sandwiches—he immediately wanted to get on board and bring Coolgreens to Texas.

But because the concept wasn’t franchising at the time, Lee was denied. Instead, he became a small investor in the growing company that had helped his health.

Nearly a decade later, Lee is the CEO of Coolgreens, which recently announced its first franchising model and signed franchisee.

When it came to getting involved at the restaurant, Lee had to exercise patience. As an executive, he practiced the same principle. Although Coolgreens had received franchising requests throughout Lee’s tenure, he didn’t want to rush into franchising without laying the proper framework first.

“We don’t want to just franchise Coolgreens for growth, but because we’ve taken the experience of a franchisee and a franchisor, the training required, and put support systems in place for correct operations based on that,” Lee says. “There’s a lot of good that comes with being a franchisee, but there can also be a lot of headache and a lot of heartbreak, so we took that to heart.”

Drawing on his own experiences as both a franchisor and franchisee, Lee set out to create a completely exhaustive model for potential expansion partners.

Aided by Buxton Analytics, Coolgreens analyzed all customer purchases since 2009 to sketch a clear customer profile. That prototypical customer served as the basis for measuring potential franchise locations against each other, and helps Coolgreens counsel franchisees into entering the best possible markets.

The restaurant hired professional manual makers to transcribe their vision into one volume for franchisees, attempting to provide a comprehensive framework for operating a Coolgreens location without listing redundant information, like regionalized tips for running a store that aren’t applicable to all locations.

Although Coolgreens searched for experienced multi-unit operators for their initial franchised locations, establishing clear operations practices allows less experienced operators to be trained by the Coolgreens book.

More important than experience, Lee says, is a passion for the brand’s values of healthful eating and living, and a dedication to the Coolgreens community that upholds and appreciates those values.

“We’re not looking for someone with a whole bunch of money who just wants to do something else with it,” Lee says. “Our franchisees have to have passion for the food, the brand, and the lifestyle we’re trying to promote.”

If passion is the measuring stick, there could’ve been no better selection for the brand’s first franchisee than 26-year-old Cassidi Brown, who will bring the first Coolgreens location to the Dallas area in 2018.

Brown started eating at Coolgreens as a college student in Oklahoma City, and has nothing short of a storybook romance with the down-the-line salad concept.

After going out for salads on her first date with her eventual husband, Brown ramped up her Coolgreens intake until she was regularly eating at the restaurant three or four times a week.

A former waitress who’d worked her way up to management positions at several restaurants, Brown was attracted to Coolgreens for the availability of clean, fresh, and healthy foods that were hard to find at other Oklahoma City spots. Her love for the restaurant soon grew from a casual interest to a professional aspiration.

“It wasn’t long until my dream flourished into thinking this business was something I really wanted to be a part of,” she says. “I started to think, ‘Wow, I really want to own a Coolgreens.’”

Brown moved to Dallas with her husband in 2014 and reached out to Coolgreens about franchising, but received a similar response to Robert Lee five years prior: wait.

Unbeknownst to Brown, Lee was already working toward a fully fleshed out franchisee model that would be a perfect fit. On the very first day Coolgreens started accepting franchising applications, Brown was on the phone fighting for her store.

Since then, the ink has dried on her deal with Coolgreens, and Brown has her eyes set on developing her first store, then eventually opening a handful of secondary locations.

She says she’s measuring success in personal impact, though, not store count. To Brown, helping improve a customer’s health habits would be a far greater victory than any profit margin.

“I love to see people become happy and whole,” she says. “In the back of my mind, I knew I belonged in the restaurant industry, and I wanted to help people be their healthiest selves. That’s my passion—and I kept coming back to Coolgreens.”

Fast Casual, Franchising, Growth, Web Exclusives