Exec Q&A: Saladworks CEO John Scardapane Rides Freshness, Options, Franchising to Grow Salad Chain

Photo 1: John Scardapane, Saladworks CEO; 2: Chicken Manchego Salad

Exec Q&A: Saladworks CEO John Scardapane Rides Freshness, Options, Franchising t

Saladworks posted same store sales increases of eight percent last year, and in this year's first quarter saw same store sales surge 16 percent. In this Quick Serve Leader interview John Scardapane, Chairman and CEO of Saladworks, sheds some light on the company's menu and expansion initiatives, and its differentiated franchising program.

We've heard a lot about New Jersey and Delaware expansion. What are your plans for the Northeast and where are you focusing your attention now?

Scardapane: About two years, we made a decision to go from being a prominent North American chain to expanding on the national level. We had the infrastructure in place and we had the capital, so we decided to make the move. Obviously, what you see now at Saladworks is the result of that.

As you know, we primarily focused on the East Coast, but now there's interest on the West Coast as well; across the country, actually, from Dallas up to Chicago. Instead of doing one-off stores in these new markets, we're trying to penetrate them as fast as we can. Rather than signing just one store, once a market is approved by Saladworks we try to do three to four at the same time.

We saw this in California, where we'll have 15 stores signed up in just a couple of years. It's something that will help us build out faster than we could by doing them one store at a time.

What about your West Coast expansion, how many stores are there and what are the plans?

Scardapane: When we start targeting a new market, we try to see how much interest we're getting from new prospects there. If we only have one prospect that's interested in a new market, like Orange County for instance, we're not going to go penetrate that market. We wait until we have numerous prospects that eventually turn into franchisees there.

It's all driven by the number of prospects that are interested in that market. Once we have enough, we go visit that market. We look at the demographics, see what competitors we have, what the volumes are, and then if it's suitable for that market, we start selling franchises there. 

Fighting and searching for more healthful options has been getting higher and higher as a priority for the industry. How do you address the demand for healthier options?

"So what we're seeing now is a lot of new faces enjoying the ingredients we put on the menu." John Scardapane, Saladworks.

Scardapane: We don't tout ourselves as a health concept, but our products are naturally healthy. We're constantly working on our menu and still serving a satisfying portion.

About a year ago, we made the decision to change the menu at Saladworks, with the goal of not having the consumer realize that we changed any of the menus or recipes. So what we did was, we went back to our salads and looked at our core ingredients. We added about 16 new core ingredients to our salad case, all designed to offer nutritious and healthier options for people to eat.

So things like avocado, chickpeas, edamame, egg whites, tofu and white beans were all added to our existing core menu. We went back to our salads, asking, “How can we make these healthier? How can we find lower-fat, lower-salt attributes while maintaining the flavor profile our consumer would still want?”

So we took about a year to do this, and now, all of our salads average about 300 calories each. Our comp sales last year were up over eight percent, and in the first quarter of this year were up over 16 percent. So what we're seeing now is a lot of new faces enjoying the ingredients we put on the menu.

Tell us about your new salad and your some upcoming products.

Scardapane: The Chicken Manchego Salad is our newest addition.

[The Saladworks Chicken Manchego Salad is a mix of romaine and iceberg lettuce, wheat pasta, craisins and chicken, also combining new ingredients including Manchego cheese, Jicama and almonds. Retail price of $6.99]

We developed this salad in R&D. We wanted it be about 300 calories and we wanted it to have some new ingredients so we brought in the Manchego cheese and the Jicama. We wanted it to have fiber and be protein-packed.

Then, it's topped with our Strawberry Capris dressing.

What's been very successful in the past is letting our consumers do an online contest and create their own salad that they particularly like. So we're going to be doing a contest in the early summer, where we're going to invite our customers to submit their recipes and let them create their own salad.

Saladworks Chicken Manchego Salad

It will be supported by all our point-of-sale material in the stores, as well as commercials, billboards and online.

Your franchising program has been very opportunistic for independent entrepreneurs. How do you continue to differentiate your franchising program?

Scardapane: In 2009, we awarded 10. In 2010, we awarded 42 and last year, we awarded 84. This year, we're on pace to beat that. There are a lot of things driving that:

  • one of the most important is the health of the chain;
  • the experience of the chain, being in existence for 25 years;
  • the validation of our support; and
  • the overall sales and the comp growth

You know, if our franchisees are successful, then we're going to be successful.

One of the most unique and helpful things that has helped Saladworks be successful is when prospects get to come into discovery day and see the culture that we've built over many, many years at Saladworks.

They see what our core values are, and they really get to feel comfortable that they've picked the right company and will get everything back that they put in. It starts with our culture and goes down to the service level, where we're serving customers a fanatical customer experience.

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Copyright: Kandessa Media. All rights reserved.

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This story appears in:  Operations & People

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