Salata Salad Kitchen is a Houston-based fast casual concept that offers guests salads and wraps made with fresh veggies, high quality proteins and house-made dressings. I was incredibly lucky to discover Salata when I was working at my former job as a co-founder and CEO for a health club concept called Fitness Connection, where I would often go to Salata for a quick lunch or dinner while working at the office. I always enjoyed working for companies that help better people’s lives, and was looking to find new opportunities outside of the corporate world.

When my partners and I started looking at business opportunities, we wanted to work with great operating partners and a brand that shared the same values as us. When we discovered Salata, we felt we had found a brand that was not only relevant when we signed on, but also offered the ability to grow and develop the concept further. We loved the concept and the food as customers, but in the end, it was really our confidence in the leadership team that made us positive Salata was the right move.

We opened our first location with Salata in Mansfield, Texas, in December of 2018, and soon after opened a second location in Grand Prairie, Texas, in September 2019. Now, we have four restaurants open with our fifth in development. A little over two and a half years ago I stepped down from my position as CEO of Fitness Connection and have been able to use some of that free time to spend at our Salata locations to regularly check in and make sure that our employees and customers are getting everything they need. It’s been a really great opportunity for me to foster good relationships with the people I work with, and the people we work for.

As someone who first started out as a kid working in hospitals, to serving in the Navy and then co-founding a health club brand, partnering with a brand like Salata that provides fresh, healthier food options seemed like a no-brainer. I value Salata’s dedication to providing fast and fresh options for guests, as well as the whole team’s dedication to providing everyone with top-notch service, whether it’s the customers or the workers. I’m truly grateful that we chose to partner with Salata and we are excited to help further expand its reputation and name in the coming years.

What was your first job?

My first job was working as a transportation orderly at a hospital where I helped take patients from room to room for operations and other appointments. Working there as a teenager shaped my outlook on how I wanted to live life. I realized how much I enjoyed helping people and decided being of service to others was the direction that I was bound to take.

Afterward, I served as a search and rescue swimmer for the Navy. It was a really great time for me—especially as an adrenaline-seeking young man—and it still allowed me to help others. My first “adult job” after the Navy was actually as a salesperson at a health club and, 28 years later, I still work with the same man who first hired me.

What’s your favorite menu item at Salata?

Even now as a franchisee, I still like to consider myself first and foremost a customer because I really do love the food at Salata. My go-to meal is the Tomato Basil Soup and Mixed Greens Salad with shrimp and the fresh herb vinaigrette. Don’t blame me when you get hooked. 

Aside from Salata, what is your favorite cuisine?

I wouldn’t say that I have a specific cuisine that is my favorite. However, I am a huge fan of pizza. It’s my favorite food group. I obviously can’t eat it for every meal, unfortunately, but I am always in the mood for a good pizza.

Who inspires you as a leader?

There are two people who stand out as inspiration for me, as they value the servant-leader mindset just as I do. I have been a man of faith my entire life, so the first person is Jesus. It might sound a little cliché to say so, but it’s true. My faith is a big part of who I am, and I look towards Jesus as a reminder to put others first before myself.

My other inspiration is Bruce Nickle, the man who first hired me at the health club and has remained a business partner ever since. He’s always been an incredible leader to our teams—his work ethic is admirable—and after my time in healthcare and the Navy, he was the first person outside of those industries who had the dedication to serving others that I valued. He truly embodies the idea of “people before profit,” and is always making sure that employees and customers alike come first before anything else.

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

My best piece of advice is that your team is the most important asset you have. Ryan, our Operating Partner at Salata, who is the face of our organization with both our internal and external customers, and is a caring, charismatic collaborative leader who is willing to invest his time in developing and maintaining our teams. It’s important to make sure you have a team that is not only hard-working, but also one that feels respected and appreciated in the workplace. If you’re not treating your team with the respect they deserve, you’re probably not going to be very successful down the line.

What are some of your interests outside of work?

There are three main ways that I spend my time: with my faith, my family, and in fitness, whether it’s hiking outside or working out at a health club. Those three things are definitely what you’d find me doing outside of Salata.

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