Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | January 2017

What Inspires Chopt CEO Nick Marsh

Chopt Creative Salad Company's CEO learned the restaurant business the hard way, but it's benefiting him years later.
Nick Marsh's key advice: Don't ever forget about the food. Chopt Creative Salad Company
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In 1994, I started a coffee concept called Xando Coffee and Bar. It was a group of four friends and my brother, and what we lacked in experience we made up for in enthusiasm. It was invariably a mix of both how passionate we were and how many mistakes we made along the way. All of it was, I think, typical entrepreneurial stuff and pretty standard restaurant industry stuff: growing too fast, not knowing how to hire the right people, losing focus. When I left after 10 years, I remember saying to myself, “If you didn’t learn anything from that, you weren’t paying attention.”

I was fortunate enough to think about what I wanted to do next. This was 2005, and it was clear there was this growing opportunity to really make fast food better, to focus on improving quality in the fast-food segment. I wanted an opportunity to create with all those lessons that I had painfully learned over my first decade in the business.

I met Tony Shure and Colin McCabe, the founders of Chopt, right when they were opening their second restaurant. It was clear that they were the kind of passionate, creative entrepreneurs who would make building a business fun. Just as importantly, they were clearly pointed in the same direction in their vision for food. They were really some of the first guys to ask the question, “Why can’t fast, affordable food be healthy and taste great?” They opened Chopt in 2001, and I think the innovation was to move salads and vegetables to the center of the plate as opposed to a side dish.

Tony and Colin were looking for a partner to navigate through the challenges that come up in building a business so that they could focus on the food. That proved to be a pretty good match. What’s great about our partnership is that my focus on all things infrastructure and building the business allow Tony and Colin to remain really entrepreneurial. And I think that’s why Chopt has been able to continue to innovate in a very rapidly changing food landscape. They have the freedom to do things I don’t think you’d do in other companies.


What was your first job?

Founding Xando Coffee and Bar.

What’s your favorite menu item at Chopt?

Right now it’s the Spicy New Mexico Caesar salad.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food, excluding Chopt?

Mendocino Farms and Dos Toros.

What menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

Our 350-person-per-hour throughput.

What piece of advice do you think most quick-service executives should hear?

Don’t ever forget it’s all about the food.