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    How One Thriving Fast Casual is Redefining Salads

  • Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop’s “commander in leaf” shares his hot salad takes.

    Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop.
    Moroccan Bowl.

    Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop has been in business for more than 10 years and boasts six locations in Southern California. The menu is a combination of build-your-own and chef-inspired bowls and salads that are full of flavor but void of things like cream and added sugar. QSR spoke with Jonathan Rollo, commander in leaf, about what makes a menu-worthy salad, his process of developing the best bite, and where he sees salad menus trending in the future.

    How do Greenleaf’s salads stand out?

    From the very beginning, the salads and menu items that we create for Greenleaf focus on being fresh and healthy and on innovation with different combinations of ingredients that we haven’t necessarily seen before, or really fun spins on classics. What we try to accomplish is what we call a “Greenleaf version.” It is generally healthier; lower-calorie; nothing artificial, with preservatives, or refined; and uses no sugar-added options. We let the natural ingredients speak for themselves and put them into combinations and pairings that enhance the overall profile of the menu item. If it’s a salad, we want to make sure that there’s the maximum amount of pleasure derived from each bite without having to pay for it in terms of calories or health.

    Could you give an example of a menu item that achieved these goals?

    We created a Spicy Chicken Caesar Bowl and, instead of it being laden with cheese and really heavy caesar dressing and croutons, we created a combination of shredded kale with a vegan, no-sugar, and low-calorie spicy caesar dressing on a bed of our proprietary Paleo Rice, all-natural grilled chicken, and a wedge of avocado. If you do want to be gluttonous, instead of mixing it throughout, we include a big Parmesan crisp on the side, so if you want that super cheesy, salty Parmesan bite, it’s there for you. This bowl has skyrocketed to be our No. 1-selling salad or bowl for this summer. I think that’s because it accomplishes all of those things that people want when they come to Greenleaf, which is, A, something healthy, but also, B, something delicious. It’s a familiar classic with our own spin and has been driving a lot of return customers back. It’s been a really good gateway salad for us.

    What components would you say every good salad needs?

    I think every salad has to have a great mix of flavors and textures. It has to have a great balance of acid and sweet. For me, that balance can come from very few ingredients or a lot. I personally prefer to try to create maximum flavor profiles with as few ingredients as possible, but it’s also a lot of fun to experiment with the bounty of a season and really see if you can get everything to just speak cohesively with a few tweaks here and there.

    How do you think salad menus will develop in the future?

    Over the last two years, we’ve experienced bowls in general, as opposed to salads, getting great momentum. One of our most popular items is called the La La Bowl. It started as an LTO when we opened our location at the University of Southern California and was just so popular. It’s a beautiful dish with all these great ingredients compartmentalized around so you could build yourself the perfect bite. But one very interesting thing that we have noticed is that that bowl in particular and the rest of our bowls have really started to gain momentum and pace the salad section of the menu competitively.

    I think that there’s been a lot of clarity as of late with what “healthy” is. It’s not just lettuce that allows for a clean meal. Our customers very astutely have learned that you can use a mix of greens, vegetables, and grains like paleo cauliflower rice to create a substantial and satisfying meal while keeping it very clean. Clean means something slightly different in today’s vernacular.

    Furthermore, like what we’ve experienced with the Spicy Chicken Caesar, we are going to see a lot of reinvented classics with people taking traditional favorites that are well known and loved and upping them for the next generation. Whether that means making them diet (like keto or paleo) friendly or just using more modern techniques, those tweaks will allow for the next generation to fall in love with the classics.

    I also think we’ll see different flavor combinations that haven’t really been accessible to the everyday diner before. We’re working on a Mediterranean-Asian combo; we’re calling it “Mediter-asian.”