A green revival as salad chains sprout up around Austin
Chains Saladworks and MAD Greens planning on multiple locations.
Austin’s salad days are far from over.
More than 20 new salad-centered restaurants are on their way to Central Texas in the coming months, a mix of national chains as well as homegrown, mom-and-pop operations.
Saladworks, which got its start about 30 years ago in New Jersey, is looking for franchisees to open as many as 15 locations in Central Texas in the next few years, the company said.
The Austin area is appealing to the expanding chain for a number of reasons, according to David Wheeler, vice president of franchise development for Saladworks.
“Austin is a growing market with savvy consumers,” Wheeler said. “We know that our concept will be well received.”
With several new retail projects under construction throughout the region, Wheeler said Saladworks and other businesses are finding it easi-
er to secure spots for new locations.
“Austin retail will continue to grow, giving Saladworks the opportunity to expand and develop its brand,” he said.
MAD Greens, a Denver-based chain, is also taking advantage of that building boom, already locking up five spaces across Central Texas, including at the new Oaks at Lakeway development and the soon-to-open Rock Rose section at The Domain.
“We know what we’re getting into,” said Marley Hodgson, who co-founded MAD Greens with friend Dan Long about a decade ago. “Austin’s a lot like Denver. The demos are very similar.”
The “MAD” in MAD Greens stands for “Marley And Dan,” who are lifelong friends.
Unlike Saladworks, the MAD Greens locations will be company owned. That’s one of several differences that Hodgson and Long said they believe will help set them apart from other newcomers.
“Competition’s not new to us,” Long said. “We’ve seen this in other markets, including in our own home market.”
Even before its first location here opens, MAD Greens executives have already been in town scouting sources for local produce, another key difference, they said. During a recent trip, they stopped by Johnson’s Backyard Garden near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, among other businesses.
“Austin’s a city that has a fairly progressive food scene, and we think we’ll be a good fit,” Long said. “We put a lot of care into our food. We were one of the early players in local sourcing.”
Those local ingredients are also used to help create about 20 different salad dressings made daily in house by MAD Greens’ “certified dressing mixologists,” Hodgson said.
“We cook everything in house,” he said. “We really feel we can bring a more fine dining quality to healthy eating.”
At the same time national players such as Saladworks and MAD Greens are eyeing the city, one locally owned salad restaurant is relocating, while another is preparing to make a comeback.
Leaf is in the process of moving from downtown Austin’s Second Street District to a site on West Sixth Street, while Baby Greens is aiming to reopen on West Anderson Lane early next year — six years after owner Sharon Mays decided to pull the plug.
“When I closed, I closed hoping there’d be an opportunity to one day bring it back,” Mays said. “I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response since we said we were coming back. It’s been very moving.”
The drive-through restaurant will feature most of the same salads former customers are used to, Mays said, as well as some new additions such as a seasonal farmto-table offering.
Construction is under way, and plans call for Baby Greens to debut in either February or March.
“We’re moving at a really good clip,” Mays said. “I can’t get it open fast enough.”
Brenton Johnson (right), owner of Johnson’s Backyard Garden, takes Dan Long, co-founder of MAD Greens, a Denver-based chain that is expanding in Central Texas, on a tour of his 200-acre organic farm in Southeast Austin in October. Chain executives were scouting sources for local produce.
Johnson’s Backyard Garden owner Brenton Johnson (right) shows MAD Greens co-founder Dan Long his farm in October. MAD Greens has locked up five restaurant locations in Central Texas.
Doug Noffsinger washes and prepares radishes for packaging at Johnson’s Backyard Garden in October. MAD Greens plans to use local ingredients to help create about 20 different salad dressings made daily at its sites.