Salad and Go’s mission is to eliminate the conflict among accessibility, affordability, and wellness, according to CEO Charlie Morrison. Several brands are working on the same issue, but not many have matched what Salad and Go has accomplished.
The model is simple. The chain builds 750-square-foot double drive-thru boxes where guests can order 48-ounce salad bowls. This product is filled with romaine lettuce, mixed greens, and protein, and made from scratch without additives and preservatives. Also, guests receive the meal in under four minutes, and it only costs $6.99.
“For those of you who eat salads regularly, you probably know that the price point is somewhere between $14 and $20. It’s ridiculous,” Morrison said at the ICR Conference earlier this month. “And it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Morrison is frequently asked how Salad and Go can keep its prices so low. He begins by explaining the brand’s completely rebuilt supply chain. The company delivers products from the farm straight into a central kitchen. That’s where workers cut, wash, and prepare ingredients and also make dressings from scratch recipes and concentrates for beverages. Handling these tasks at the commissary cuts a lot of labor hours from the back of house. Salad and Go takes those reduced staffing costs and turns them into an affordable price point for the consumer. The chain can deliver “great margins,” Morrison said, while paying store employees a minimum of $15 per hour and central kitchen employees as much as $20 per hour.
Initially, the brand used its own trucks for distribution, but it recently partnered with Performance Food Group to handle the last mile so that it could focus solely on food and execution in stores. One central kitchen can support at least 400 units. There’s one in Phoenix that will serve most of the Southwest and Southern California. A second one in Dallas will cover as far as Atlanta and the Midwest.
Morrison joined Salad and Go’s board in 2020, back when he was serving as CEO of Wingstop. He was immediately enamored with the chain’s core principles, which is why he decided to take on the chief executive role in 2022.
“Most people who can eat salad every day can afford that. And that’s a very narrow segment of the population. Most people who desire to eat salad and can’t afford it are struggling, right?” Morrison said. “And they’re left with what’s available and convenient, and it’s generally not as healthy and good for you. And so by unlocking the supply chain and doing what we’re doing, we think the first real key to our social responsibility is accessibility and affordability and putting those two things together. That’s what’s truly unique about this brand. That’s what inspired me to make the switch and leave Wingstop and go to run this company and build this brand.”
Salad and Go has roughly 130 locations in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Oklahoma. That’s an increase from about 25 outlets when Morrison became a board member. In 2023, the chain opened about one store per week on average, and has future expansion plans that could carry it “well into the thousands of restaurants,” the CEO said. All of it will be corporately owned, partly because of the supply chain setup. This year, Salad and Go will enter California, Kansas, and Arkansas, and then it will work its way further into the Southeast, likely in Atlanta.
The company has spent the past 18 months building the infrastructure necessary to scale the brand, including ERP systems, POS, and back office systems. Corey Horsch, a veteran of Sonic and Gordon Ramsey North America, was hired as CFO in May 2023. Nicole Portwood, with a background in Pepsi and Tito’s Handmade Vodka, was appointed CMO in October 2023.
Stores can be built for about $1 million. They come with one traditional drive-thru lane and one order-ahead lane (digital mixes about 20 percent).
“It affords us the opportunity to find unique pockets of real estate that others can’t get into,” Morrison said. “So some of the smaller coffee concepts have done this, and we’ve seen this where they have a very small box and we’re able to squeeze into as little as 15,000 square feet, which means we can secure that site on an existing center. We don’t have to have the hard corner every single time. We like that, but we don’t have to do it. It reduces the cost of the real estate itself and also reduces the build-out costs.”
In addition to salads, the chain offers wraps, soups, and an entire breakfast menu. Theoretically, a customer could show up at 6:30 a.m. and order a breakfast burrito, cold brew or coffee, and a salad for lunch later in the day—all for $10. The afternoon is Salad and Go’s biggest daypart, but breakfast time accounts for a healthy 20 percent.
The norm is for salad eaters to have a higher income and lean female, but Salad and Go has found that it appeals to diverse segments. This allows the chain to fit into DMAs with different income levels and demographics.
“While our early adopters are salad eaters, what we’ve been able to figure out really quickly is a way to get people who wouldn’t eat salads as much to recognize how craveable the food is—how great the food tastes and how important it is to a healthy diet,” Morrison said. “And that builds a really broad segment of customers. … It’s almost like coffee in terms of the excitement customers have. We know how quickly they’ll try, how quickly they’ll repeat. And the frequency levels of our customers are off the charts, and it’s because of that great value. It’s cheaper than going and getting a burger, fries, and a Coke. It’s cheaper than any other salad opportunity out there. It’s certainly cheaper than going to the store and getting all the ingredients.”
The next step is building brand awareness. Salad and Go has 4 million users in its database and has access to data, like their frequency patterns and when they trade across different stores. The chain wants to work with these customers on a 1:1 basis and understand when and why they purchase meals and how to encourage lapsed members to return.
Salad and Go is just at the starting point, Morrison said.
“Job one is get the word out, tell people about it, grow the brand,” the CEO said. “And then secondly, we want to make sure we’re executing exceptionally well. But barring any of the other challenges that we could foresee that we’re not dealing with, definitely, the potential is there for thousands of locations.”