Web Exclusive | May 2016 | By Sam Oches

Mixing Up the Salad Game

One of the original fast-casual salad brands reboots for 10-year anniversary.
San Francisco salad fast casual restaurant chain disrupts health food industry.
Mixt serves more than 1 million pounds of local, sustainable, and organic vegetables are served each year. Mixt

What does it mean to be a fast-casual concept committed to a chef-driven menu, locally sourced ingredients, healthy eating, high-tech ordering, and sustainable operations?

These days, it means… well, keeping up with the field. In the crowded fast-casual space, especially within densely concentrated urban areas brimming with hungry Millennials, operators who don’t invest in these high-quality attributes tend to fall behind the pack.

But for San Francisco–based Good Food Guys—parent company to Mixt Greens and Split Bread—these characteristics have been at the core of the company’s identity for 10 years, much longer than many others in the category have existed. And now, exactly a decade after Mixt Greens became one of the first fast-casual salad concepts—and four years after the founders bought the brand back from a private equity firm—the company is refreshing its branding, name, and messaging to remind customers of its roots, while also bolstering its corporate team in preparation for growth.

“The 10-year anniversary was a great time to look at our brand and do a revamp,” says Mollie Allick, vice president of marketing for Good Food Guys. “Certainly, branding and design go a long way. … But it’s less about change and it’s more about staying true to our roots and our original messaging.”

As part of the rebrand, Mixt Greens is shaking the latter half of its name—moving forward as just Mixt—while also rolling out an updated website and mobile app that reflect a new logo and branding. In addition, Mixt is introducing a new store design, which includes a fresh, modern aesthetic with stainless steel, wood, and tile furnishings.

“As this space becomes more concentrated, words like natural, non-GMO, healthy, and organic kind of just go in one ear and out the other.”

Good Food Guys is also adding to its headquarters team as it readies for a new round of growth. Allick recently joined the company from the Bay Area culinary powerhouse Mina Group, founded by celebrity chef Michael Mina. The company also brought in chef Glen Kang, formerly chef de cuisine at the renowned San Francisco restaurant State Bird Provisions, to join cofounder Andrew Swallow, who is himself an accomplished chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America.

“There’s a strong culinary talent on the headquarters team who is curating this menu on a seasonal basis,” Allick says, noting that the menu changes four times a year. “That hasn’t changed. It’s just that maybe we need to amplify that a little more, because as this space becomes more concentrated, words like natural, non-GMO, healthy, and organic kind of just go in one ear and out the other. The customer maybe doesn’t know the real signs of a quality product.”

On its website, Mixt boasts of the fact that 102 of its ingredients are locally sourced, 99 percent of its waste is diverted from landfills, and more than 1 million pounds of local, sustainable, and organic vegetables are served each year. While these local and sustainability programs have been embedded in the brand DNA since the beginning, Allick says, the company is aiming to put those values front and center in its messaging.

Mixt has followed a long and winding road since it first opened in 2006. Founded by husband-and-wife duo David and Leslie Silverglide, along with Swallow, Leslie’s brother, the salad concept earned accolades in the latter half of the aughts for its local-sourcing practices and its sustainability-minded operations. The concept grew to several locations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., and in 2009 was acquired by private equity firm Inventages.

In 2012, though, Swallow and the Silverglides decided to buy Mixt Greens back from Inventages. That year, they also opened Split Bread, a fast casual dishing sandwiches and burgers, and established Good Food Guys as the parent company to the two brands.

Mixt scaled back its unit count, which included closing its D.C. stores. Today, there are soon-to-be 10 Mixt locations between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Jose, California. Meanwhile, Split Bread will soon open its third unit in San Francisco.

As a brand that thrives on lunch business during weekdays, Mixt has found success in San Francisco’s Financial District, where some of its stores are a short walk from each other. The brand keeps its long lines moving through a mix of employee- and customer-facing technology; Allick says the Silverglides have leveraged relationships with technology vendors in the Bay Area to keep ahead of ordering innovations.

Because of the continued success for locations in close proximity, Good Food Guys is taking its time with Mixt’s growth, focusing expansion mostly on the Bay Area for now. “We’re fortunate to be opening restaurants within two to three blocks of each other, and we’re still seeing full demand,” Allick says. “We still see that there’s great opportunity here in the Bay Area. We haven’t tapped every nook and cranny.”

Meanwhile, Split Bread has found success as both a lunch and dinner destination, and Allick says that brand’s next location will be in more of a residential area. Split Bread has more flexibility in its growth plans, she says, because it serves alcohol and has a more diverse menu.

Allick says there will be more of an effort to tie the two Good Food Guys brands to each other in customers’ minds, as many loyalists—she says some Mixt customers make as many as 21 visits per month—don’t know the two are guided by the same company with the same core values.

“As we grow and people have a loyalty to one brand, we certainly want to convert them to both experiences, and we think there are enough similarities in high-quality products that even though the menus are fairly different—one is a salad concept and one is a sandwich/burger concept—the quality is a connection that is the lynchpin that keeps them together,” she says.

As for that crowded fast-casual field that has grown up around Mixt Greens and Split Bread in the last 10 years, Allick says the two brands are in a good position to compete because they are both culinary-driven and technologically savvy. The rest of the fast-casual category, she says, is often one or the other.

“You’ve got people on one perspective who are coming from a great culinary background, and then you have people who are coming from more of a technology and business background,” she says. “How do you strike a balance of being in between? … You need both sides of the equation. Customers’ expectations continue to go up.”

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