I had spent almost 15 years in the health and wellness business, and had formerly run the largest wellness franchisor in the world. I retired in March of 2017, and I couldn’t play in the health and wellness business for a long time. I wanted something else to do as a hobby, and honestly, I needed a great place for dinner or lunch. I was tired of going to the local supermarket grab-and-go section to try and find something healthy. So I said, “Why don’t I just build my own restaurant down the street?” I positioned the entire brand on a dream list of things that you would want if you’re a healthy eater and you wanted something special, with no limits in mind.

People really want to live a healthy lifestyle. They want to have a more aspirational, positive life. They just don’t necessarily know how to do it. And so what Crisp & Green did was we made it very easy for them, and I gave them the tools and resources to learn how to integrate that into their life. I couldn’t sell fitness for many years after the sale of my previous company, but I certainly could give it away. And so the first year, we gave away 300 events where we taught people how to do yoga and boxing classes and running seminars, to help build that lifestyle around the product.

You have people who choose to generally make better choices than not. And then you have people that say, “Look, I’m just going to live my life.” What [COVID] has done is it’s put more people in that first camp. How does that play into the fact that pizza is up? It doesn’t mean that person is not going to still order pizza on a Friday night with their kids, but what it does mean is that they may make a healthier lunch choice knowing they might have a dinner that’s maybe not quite as healthy.

People are waking up every day saying, “I’m going to make a healthy choice today.” It may look different; maybe it’s working out at home, or maybe it’s making a salad at your home three days a week and you order from Crisp & Green twice. But ultimately, we’ve learned one thing: If you’re healthy, your life is better and you have an opportunity to stay healthy.

What was your first job?

I was a freshman in high school and built a line of clothing called Smiley Designs. I sold T-shirts in 12 different high schools in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C. area. It helped me pay for my first car.

What’s your favorite cuisine outside of Crisp & Green?

Anything plant-based is the way I personally eat. I have eaten that way since 2014 and it has changed my life. 

Who inspires you as a leader?

My father. He was the editor of a company newsletter; 29 years later, he helped run a Fortune 50 company. Watching our family move 14 times before I was 20 deeply changed my life and gave me the opportunity to learn from someone who really valued hard work. 

What’s the best piece of advice that other restaurant executives should hear?

Think twice about taking venture capital or private equity. Early decisions should be on the customer and are not necessarily for the bottom line. If you do take a partner on, make sure they align with your values and share your passion for the customer.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

I love business, but my most important passion is fitness and working out. I’ve worked out at least twice a day every day since I was 10 years old, when I started as a competitive swimmer. I now run and lift weights daily, box with my trainer, and participate in stretching and yoga classes

Fast Casual, Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs, Story