A good-for-you eating spot that’s known in Manhattan for attracting the likes of Kelly Ripa, Alex Rodriguez and Amanda Seyfried will open its first Chicago restaurant and its largest outlet Friday.
Just Salad sells chef-designed and make-your-own salads, as well as wraps, organic soups and fruit-and-vegetable smoothies with the increasingly popular healthy requisites: affordable, locally sourced fresh ingredients. The restaurant, 20 E. Jackson Blvd., will use breads from Chicago-based Red Hen Bread, sausage from Fabbri’s and Marconi Food’s Giardiniera peppers. It also will use sustainably sourced proteins such as grass-fed beef and antibiotic-free and humanely raised chicken.
Most of the chef-designed salads cost between $7.50 and $10. The company’s website lists the nutritional breakdown of the chef-designed salads and will tally the carbs, protein and calories for a make-your-own salad.
Nick Kenner, a Manhattan native and former hedge fund trader, started Just Salad nine years ago while on his own quest for a healthy lunch.
“Everyone at the hedge fund ate salads,” he said. “We tried to be a little healthier in the context of our workdays, sitting for 10 to 12 hours and then eating big dinners where we’d have drinks and eat meat.”
Some of Just Salad’s other claims to fame: A menu designed by dietitian Laura Pensiero, author of “Hudson Valley Mediterranean: The Gigi Good Food Cookbook” and owner of restaurant Gigi Trattoria; a salad chopping process featuring a three-blade mezzaluna knife to cut up the greens; and reusable bowls that sell for $1 and come with either a free portion of cheese or two free toppings as a reward for recycling.
“Our inspiration is that we’d like to be known as the ‘Trader Joe’s of fast food,’ ” said Kenner, 34, who chose Chicago as the first U.S. city for expansion because of the feedback from Chicago customers on the company website and in the New York store. The company runs 20 eateries in New York City and has three franchised operations in Dubai and one franchisee in Hong Kong.
Kenner says Just Salad is ready to compete in Chicago’s growing good-for-you options in the Loop, including Freshii, Pret A Manger, Protein Bar and Snap Kitchen, as well as new offerings such as low-carb “Buff Bowls” with extra protein and vegetables at Noodles & Co. Freshii will open new restaurants in June and July in the Ogilvie Transportation Center, 500 W. Madison, and in Illinois Center, 233 N. Michigan Ave., respectively, and aims to double its eatery count to 30 in Chicago by year’s end, company spokeswoman Nikki Ellis said.
“In New York, people serve salads like they do coffee,” Kenner said.
Kenner has led Just Salad to profitability, is eyeing going public and believes the differentiating details have made Just Salad a destination.
The company has hired 15 full-time and 20 part-time employees for the Chicago site. Wages range from $10 an hour for dishwashers to between $55,000 and $70,000 yearly for a store manager.
Just Salad aims to open four more restaurants in Chicago within 16 months.
A Chicago company that crunches data about the food-service industry says the simultaneous growth of good-for-you eateries alongside gourmet-burger places such as Five Guys, M Burger, Shake Shack and Smashburger shows that consumers, and particularly millennials, want to be able to customize their meals, said Eli Rosenberg, vice president of marketing for Food Genius.
“In the case of both Five Guys and Freshii, consumers (millennials in particular) are able to control what toppings and various accoutrements come with their chosen dish,” Rosenberg said in an email.
“Also, consumers still want to indulge every once in a while. But when they do so, they still want to do so on their own terms – by going to restaurants that boast organic ingredients or ingredients that are perceived to be more fresh than traditional fast-food restaurants,” Rosenberg said.