Charlie Morrison spent nearly 10 years as Wingstop’s chief executive, and it was the most active and prolific decade in the fast casual’s history.

In Q1 of this year, his last full period at the helm, systemwide sales grew 12.7 percent to $630 million, U.S. AUV increased to $1.6 million, digital sales mixed 62.3 percent, and the chain opened 60 net new units. The number of global restaurants grew from 1,579 to roughly 1,800, year-over-year. Wingstop is seven years removed from its IPO and now the dominant player in the quick-service wing space. No other chain in the category is close in terms of sales or footprint.

Morrison, now CEO of emerging drive-thru chain Salad and Go, is hoping to repeat that trajectory. He joined the board of directors in November 2020, back when there were about 25 restaurants. In less than two years, the Arizona-based brand has expanded to roughly 60 stores, and it expects to hit nearly 90 locations by the end of the year. At the conclusion of 2023, the footprint is projected to double. More than 40 stores are in the greater Phoenix area, and much of future growth is coming in Texas.

In his time as a board member, Morrison was attracted to the company’s mission of fresh and healthy food, affordability, and convenience. So when the group decided it needed a CEO to grow the organization, he nominated himself, and the board unanimously agreed. The move became official in April.

“While I had a wonderful 10-year tenure at Wingstop, grew that thing from 500 restaurants to over 1,800, I saw an opportunity here to be able to replicate that success and do it again in a brand that I believe has the potential for that kind of scale,” Morrison says.

The industry veteran says he’s unaware of any other concept at scale that pairs salads with a double drive-thru format. Morrison also believes no one else in the segment can match the concept’s $6.24 price point.  

Restaurants are roughly 700 square feet and come with a walkup window, but no dining room. Essentially meaning, stores are built for quick back-of-house operations. Customers go from ordering at the speaker to receiving their meal in no more than two to three minutes. All food is made to order, and done so in fewer than 15 seconds. Salad and Go offers eight preset combinations for both its salads and wraps, which helps with speed, but guests also have a build-your-own option.

Also, unlike its salad peers, the company opens 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. on the weekend. During its four-hour breakfast daypart, Salad and Go sells five burritos/bowls, in addition to the core menu. So customers could get a beverage, burrito, and salad all in one transaction. In fact, the brand recently announced a $9.99 bundle that includes all three items.

“It’s quite strong,” says Morrison, referring to Salad and Go’s breakfast daypart. “It’s on par with a lot of other [quick-service restaurant] concepts that offer breakfast in terms of how many people come through and the business we generate. As I said, it gives guests the convenience of, you only have to get out once on your way to work. You grab the burrito, the salad, and cold brew or a drink and you’re set for the day and you don’t have to go back out. And so I think it’s a disruptive approach to break the norm of having to come and go to each daypart, but they actually balance throughout the entire day. And a good dinner business as well.”

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Salad and Go has a presence in Arizona and Texas, but the chain is preparing to enter Oklahoma in 2022 and Nevada by way of Las Vegas later this year or early 2023. In Texas, there are plans to grow in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, and Waco—up and down the I-35 corridor. A new office recently opened in Addison, Texas, to complement the Phoenix headquarters.

Although the chain’s expansion goals are lofty, Morrison has confidence in the expectations because nearly every site needed to hit the benchmarks are in the pipeline. They’re either signed leases or under construction and moving along. The efforts are supported by large and sophisticated restaurant development and operation teams. 

Additionally, Salad and Go has two food manufacturing facilities in place—one in Phoenix and the other in Dallas—that are built to handle upcoming capacity. In the future, the company will move to a larger venue in Garland, Texas, which will be 110,000 square feet. That will fuel enough production for about 400 restaurants. Through these facilities, Salad and Go maintains control over quality and takes preparation out of stores. Once growers transport product to the manufacturers, ingredients are typically ready for restaurant transportation in two days at the most. The brand attempts to source from local farmers whenever possible to keep costs low. 

Going forward, Salad and Go will remain company-owned and fortress around these food processing facilities.

“We are able to maintain freshness, and we’re not required to have long shelf lives on our products, which means we can keep them fresh, keep them from having these additives and other ingredients that a lot of products end up getting that extend shelf lives,” Morrison says. “We don’t have to do that here. And so we’re able to actually pass the food immediately through these facilities straight to the guests in the form of a very high quality, very fresh product usually within a few days.”

Morrison sees several similarities in the foundation of Wingstop and Salad and Go. When he arrived at the wing fast casual in 2012, it had a strong value proposition, and the playbook was to do a few things and do them well. Number one was prepare the supply chain for scale, followed by employing digital efficiency, and ramping up a marketing engine that can amplify the voice of customers.

All three of those tenets are part of Salad and Go’s long-term growth plan.

“I believe if you have a strong business model, you have a very positive sentiment from your guests, which we do, and a great value, you’re going to be in great shape to be able to scale the concept very quickly,” Morrison says. “And so we’re going to put that to work and hopefully achieve the kind of success that we saw back at Wingstop.”

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Fast Food, Growth, Web Exclusives, Salad and Go