When Sharon Mays opened her salad concept Baby Greens in 2004, there weren’t many competitors. Set in an old hamburger shop, the Austin, Texas, concept grew in popularity, drawing customers who wanted an alternative to traditional fast food. But the concept closed in 2009, as Mays wanted to reorient the brand and prepare it for growth. Seven years later, Baby Greens once again opened its doors—this time at a new location in North Austin, with a revamped menu to boot.

As the health-forward concept brings in new and old guests alike, Mays shares her story behind the decision to close and how consumers have evolved in those seven years.

What was the original inspiration for Baby Greens?

When I had the idea for Baby Greens, I had gone vegetarian and immediately noticed there were no fast-food options for vegetarians and people who wanted to be healthy. I spent a lot of time thinking about the menu to attract people, whether they were vegetarians or meat eaters. We’re a fast-food restaurant, so my goal is to get someone to come to my restaurant instead of another fast-food restaurant. We really need low-hanging, attractive-looking fruit. We need to have salads that really tickle people’s interest.

How have your customers changed since 2004?

When we first opened in 2004, we had to explain why we didn’t have “regular lettuce,” which I learned meant iceberg lettuce. People were still in that old-school salad bar mentality. Now people are definitely savvier in what they are wanting—those fresh ingredients. It took us a little while to catch people up with what we were doing, but now the customer base that’s out there doesn’t flinch at kale and the things that we’ve added to the menu this time.

Why did you shut down in 2009?

The whole process of deciding to close was difficult not only from an emotional perspective, but also from a business perspective. I created Baby Greens to be a franchise and franchise businesses go on a different path than corporate-owned stores. Even though we were doing really well and popular and expanding, we were not on the path to being franchised, and I felt like if we stayed on that path, it wasn’t going to get there.

What’s your favorite dish at Baby Greens?

I can’t pick favorites. The Asian Salad is definitely one favorite of mine. We had a salad on there before that was a Mandarin Salad, and I really was excited, but it never took off. So I tweaked it to the salad that it is now, and we created a new spicy peanut dressing that is so good. The Rainbow Salad is also a favorite and one of the new ones. Apparently I like the shiny new things.  

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Story, Baby Greens