To many, it’s nothing short of remarkable how quickly CRISP & GREEN is expanding. Since its inception in late 2016, the health-focused, fast-casual franchise has been doubling in growth for five consecutive years and is on pace to do the same in 2023 and 2024. For CRISP & GREEN founder Steele Smiley, creating lifestyle brands and making them scale is in his DNA.
Prior to founding CRISP & GREEN, Smiley started a fitness company and grew it into a regional brand until it was acquired by Lift Brands, a Global wellness company that built and managed multiple fitness concepts. There, he served as chief officer where he added over 1,000 units in over 20 countries, making Lift Brands one of the largest privately-held wellness franchisors in the world. He’s using a similar formula in growing CRISP & GREEN, which already has nearly 40 locations—with over 200 more at various stages in the development pipeline.
“For most people, scaling brands is a huge endeavor, it might even feel overwhelming,” Smiley says. “But for those of us who have been a part of brands that have doubled in size annually, we know that successful scaling through franchising takes a high-level of support you won’t find at other brands. The entire business is built to scale in a way where we won’t lose quality and we feel like we have the right formula for that.”
Smiley says the brand’s formula for success begins with a menu that appeals to the increasing number of Americans that are eating healthier. The scratch-made, chef-crafted menu features salads, grain bowls, smoothies and more—with variety for specific preferences and dietary restrictions.
“When I founded this brand, I did it because convenient and healthy eating was inaccessible for a lot of people,” Smiley says. “I could tell there was a huge need for it—back in 2016, there were only a handful of healthy restaurants in the entire U.S. It was an emerging industry, which reminded me a lot of the fitness industry when I started out in it.”
CRISP & GREEN saw immediate success once it opened its flagship location in Wayzata, Minnesota and continued to carefully expand throughout its home market over the next few years. But when COVID-19 hit, consumer demand for health skyrocketed and changed the landscape for the company. “The pandemic was horrible for a whole host of reasons, but it gave people the opportunity to reevaluate their health and truly how important it is,” Smiley says.
In addition to emphasizing healthier options, CRISP & GREEN also knows that consumers increasingly value convenience. As off-premise ordering became second-nature, CRISP & GREEN’s dedication to laying a tech-forward foundation began to pay dividends. The brand went from 7 percent to a peak of 70 percent digital sales during the COVID-19 pandemic. This additional pivot in consumer behavior would ultimately contribute to the brand scaling faster.
“Our concepts are only built for so much in-person throughput, but with takeout and delivery we can do nearly unlimited sales,” Smiley says. “That completely changed the game for us. Our recent franchise stores are opening stronger than ever, and are being embraced by communities nationwide.”
The brand’s commitment to a streamlined purchase path is part of its larger core value of providing a higher level of hospitality to guests than other restaurant brands. That ranges from crisp, clean storefront design to complimentary fitness and wellness events open to the local community.
“I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in wellness,” Smiley says. “Teaching people how to eat well was a large part of that. I learned food and nutrition through that process. Building CRISP & GREEN allowed me to continue to tell the story of wellness in a new industry, and this is the one that called to me.”
While many health-focused brands find success mostly in the lunch daypart, CRISP & GREEN has impressive splits in that regard: about 55 percent of sales take place at lunch, while 45 percent of sales take place at dinner. The brand has even begun experimenting with a breakfast menu to further build out sales and accelerate franchisee success.
By the end of year, Smiley says CRISP & GREEN will have grown to 65 locations. By the end of 2024, his projection is for the brand to end up around 130 units. He’s looking for franchisees who want to bring a brand like CRISP & GREEN to their local community—and to help scale the brand into the national powerhouse Smiley believes it can be.
“For us, it’s all about getting to that critical mass,” Smiley says. “There’s so much potential here—this is the start of something big.”
For more on franchising with CRISP & GREEN, visit the brand’s franchising site.