Crisp & Green:
Going beyond the plate
A collegiate swimmer at the University of Virginia who then spent 15 years in the fitness industry, Steele Smiley opened his first Crisp & Green restaurant in Minneapolis in 2016. And not surprisingly given his athletic background, Smiley baked wellness into his upstart concept.
Crisp & Green combined a menu rich in nutritious foods—salads, grain bowls, and fresh fruit smoothies among them—with complimentary in-store fitness classes, including yoga and boxing, as well as a running club. The restaurants also hosted in-store seminars designed to help individuals integrate wellness more deeply into their lives, including a nutrition expert who would detail ways attendees could use the Crisp & Green menu throughout the week.
“People didn’t look at restaurants as wellness companies, but we wanted to put all the concepts—nutrition, workouts, and a positive mindset—together,” Smiley says. “We wanted to be looked at as providing wellness beyond the product.”
When COVID-19 hit, however, the in-store classes, a central element of Crisp & Green’s wellness mission, ceased. Smiley and his leadership team responded by turning their attention inward and focusing intently on the well-being of team members. The company provided staff unlimited opportunities to take time off and offered access to medical care.
“We devoted our resources to providing a good cushion for our teammates, so they felt well supported,” Smiley says. “In a business like ours, brand and product are important, but if our teammates are happy and have joy in what they’re doing, it makes everything else go.”
While Crisp & Green stores slowly began resuming their fitness classes this spring, returning to their enterprising pre-pandemic efforts to champion healthy living, Smiley also spearheaded the debut of a new quick-service concept focused on nutritious offerings: In April, Stalk & Spade, a plant-based restaurant, opened just outside of Minneapolis.
“In the healthy food category, there is unbelievable opportunity because people are thinking about it more,” says Smiley, who looks to have two-dozen Crisp & Green stores and more than five Stalk & Spade restaurants in operation by the close of 2021.