A green re­vival as salad chains sprout up around Austin

Chains Sal­ad­works and MAD Greens plan­ning on mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Gary Dinges gdinges@states­man.com

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.”

RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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.

PHO­TOS BY RI­CARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

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.

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