Consumers don’t often know what fresh means to a given brand. But for fresh&co, the label in its moniker is central to a menu built on regional, locally sourced ingredients.
The Manhattan-based chain was conceived by father-and-son duo Steve and George Tenedios in 2008. “What drove them to develop the concept was their inability to find a quick, healthy option in New York City,” says Alex Perez, COO of fresh&co.
The first location opened near Times Square at 1211 6th Ave., where the pair believed their message would resonate best with New Yorkers, Perez says. Expansion soon followed, with an additional location opening in 2009, followed by two more in 2010. After three years of fine-tuning the concept, Perez says, fresh&co opened five additional locations this year, mostly south of New York’s Central Park.
While specific menu items differ between locations, all fresh&co restaurants have what Perez calls “platforms,” such as the salad bar, panini sandwiches, soups, breakfast items, and desserts, that create consistency between locations, he says. And what’s offered on these platforms changes with the seasons.
“For October, we’ll focus on cauliflower, heirloom tomatoes, kales, leeks—we’re also doing some things with baby beets,” Perez says. “The key about the seasonality is that it allows us to push the creativity of our chefs.”
The latest result of that creativity is the company’s new quinoa bar, featuring the grain served warm, cooked kale or cabbage, and a wide variety of vegetables. “It’s like an extension of a cold salad bar, but it brings in the warm essence of quinoa and the kale and cabbage that’s blanched right in front of you,” Perez says. “It’s a really good and unique experience because you see all these products made right in front of your eyes.”
The brand’s fall menu also includes a Fall Harvest Side Salad made with roasted butternut squash, caramelized pears, Blue cheese, frisée, sundried cranberries, and pear vinaigrette; a Sweet Potato Chick Pea soup; and a Spicy Unchicken Sandwich made with arugula, cucumbers, sriracha aioli, vegan mayo, and a chicken alternative by Beyond Meat, served on multigrain bread.
Beyond Meat, a research and development company providing plant alternatives to meat and eggs, is just one of the protein purveyors fresh&co relies on for its healthful menu. The brand’s poultry is sourced from Freebird Chicken of Pennsylvania and Plainville Farms Turkey of central New York—both of which provide antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed, humanely raised meat.
fresh&co found a way to keep the produce fresh during the winter months, too, by working with Long Island–based Satur Farms. “They run their operations in Long Island when it’s feasible for them in the summer months, and then they move over to Florida for winter,” Perez says. “It’s the same farming practices and the same staff as in Long Island. That’s how we have the consistency and the quality year round in our locations.” He adds that farmers are often invited to food tastings when new menu items are tested.
Maintaining its consistency and quality may be the company’s biggest challenge when the brand hits new markets outside New York, Perez says, but the operations team is talking to local purveyors in different parts of the country. “There is a core menu that is consistent within the restaurant, but within those different platforms, we’re able to add regional items,” Perez says. There are plans to open more company-owned locations throughout New York, and Perez says the brand is also in talks to determine if it will license or franchise units outside the state. He says he’s been approached with interest to open stores in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, and even internationally.
Part of the interest has stemmed from fresh&co’s financial success. Perez says store unit sales are healthy, and comparable sales are up 6 percent this year, which he says is significantly higher than industry average. “We’re confident this concept will work outside of New York because we’re talking about real food, we’re talking about seasonal food,” Perez says. “This is something people all across America are looking for.”
By Tamara Omazic