Another significant move was switching from Sysco to US Foods after several years. Under the agreement, Green District is able to use the company as a distribution channel between it and local farmers. The chain also hired Mitch Huff, a 13-year veteran of US Foods, as its corporate director of operations.
“We partnered up with US Foods after several years because they believed in us and they saw what we were going to achieve,” Furlow says. “They weren't waiting for us to achieve it and then come around. We wanted people to bank on us early. And so those partnerships are great. So whether we go out west, where we go north or south, we've already got that infrastructure set, whether it's a supply chain issue or equipment. I mean we haven't had a single delay on any of our equipment.”
Green District prefers 1,600 to 2,200 square feet of space and will take anything within that range if it works. The company has improved its off-premises efficiency, but at the same time, it still wants to give off a “cool hip coffee shop vibe,” Furlow says. Two drive-thru restaurants will be tested in Salt Lake City and Colorado Springs later this year.
The company’s first Western location debuted in Colorado on Thursday. Eight are projected to open in this region of the country by the end of 2022, under the watchful eye of Spong, whose intention is to make lightning strike twice after his run with Chipotle.
“He’s been a wealth of knowledge for us,” Furlow says. "He brings that highbrow executive, from being at the absolute start of Chipotle where they were testing the product in [Chipotle cofounder Steve Ells'] kitchen to where they are now. So having that knowledge and experience in our back pocket, I think it is huge for us. But also on the flip side, he would say, ‘Well we did it like this,’ and we're like, 'Well we're not doing it like that.’ So that's what Jordan and I always want to do, much to the sometimes disagreements of our restaurant veterans. That's how I think we do break down some walls and that's how we do push the needle further forward quickly.”
Of the brand’s 12 units, 11 are corporate and one is franchised. Back when Green District conducted a franchising program, Furlow sold five locations. Two opened, but one eventually closed when the operator moved to Texas. The company then put those plans on pause because the Castellan Group is more focused on building the corporate footprint. With that said, Green District is in talks with potential operators, but it’s only entertaining deals on the scale of master franchising.
“Would we entertain an idea from somebody in Dallas? Absofreakinglutely all day long,” Doepke says. “Would we entertain an idea from somebody in Chicago? Absolutely. Any of these big markets where somebody wanted a nice development deal, we’d entertain it, but we're not going to sell franchises.”
By the end of September, Green District will finalize its plans for 2023, and that’s an effort everyone is included on, from assistant manager to high-level executive. However, Doepke made it clear where he expects the chain to be, saying “if we don’t have 33 of these open, we’re going to be pissed.”
There’s evidence that the chain’s reputation is growing. Furlow and Doepke were recently on a flight and speaking with a stranger who recognized the brand. Someone from a few rows back overheard the conversation, and shouted, “I love Green District!”
“That made me feel really important,” Furlow says. “I will say, I feel like we achieved something.”