Nick Marsh is the CEO of Chopt Creative Salad Company, a leader of the premium salad segment that has expanded from its original location in New York City’s Union Square to include 38 locations in NYC, Connecticut, suburban Westchester, NY, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. Total Food Service sat down with Nick to discuss Chopt’s origins, growth, and next steps.
Can you share with our readers what brought you into the restaurant business? As a Financial/Wall Street guy… What was the attraction?
In 1994, I left my day job and started a coffee concept called XandO Coffee and Bar with my brother and four friends. We had the entrepreneurial bug – the desire to take an idea from concept to reality – and a true passion for hospitality.
When you launched Chopt, what was the customer experience that you were looking to deliver?
When we launched Chopt, we wanted to show people that delicious, flavorful food could also be healthy, affordable, and convenient; there simply didn’t need to be trade-offs. This was a completely new concept at the time and it’s one that continues to guide us today.
How has that evolved?
We are still very much driven by the same goal that inspired us to create Chopt in the first place – to make healthy, flavorful plant-based food accessible to all.
You were one of the first in the healthy Fast Casual spaces. You’ve had a number of competitors enter the space. What do you and your team do to generate brand loyalty?
Our team members are the core of our business. They build real relationships with our customers, getting to know them and their preferences to create truly personalized experiences. Our managers are also eager to share knowledge with our customers, promoting our passion for food through guided sampling. This combination, coupled with our ability to lead the pack on convenience, has helped to generate substantial brand loyalty over the years.
During Chopt’s growth, there has been a move towards local to table and farm to table. What’s Chopt’s approach?
Since we first opened next to the Union Square Greenmarket, we’ve always incorporated local ingredients in our pantry. Today, our globally inspired salads combine seasonal produce from local farms with specialty ingredients from other inspiring partners (i.e. Coach Farms for goat cheese, Satur Farms for spinach, Tremblay Apiary for honey, etc.). In fact, our search for great ingredients often leads us to small producers and local artisans; two great examples are Hot Bread Kitchen (croutons) and Soom Foods (tahini).
Are you in the people business or the real estate business?
We are definitely in the people business. The ability to impact the healthy and livelihood of customers and team members is what drives us every day.
Technology has grown like crazy in our industry. How has Chopt embraced technology from an operational standpoint?
We’ve always been known for being the most convenient fast-casual restaurant and we view technology as an important enabler of that quality. With the recent launch of Order Ahead on the Chopt App, customers are now able to place orders right from their mobile phones and earn valuable rewards along the way. As consumers’ expectations for convenience continue to increase, we see technology playing a critical role in delivering those services.
While we are talking about technology… How do you use social media to promote?
Social media is a critical communications channel for us. It provides us with the opportunity to engage one on one with our customers, obtaining immediate feedback and allowing us to respond in real time. We’ve cultivated a strong organic following because we want these channels to be a place to go for timely news, seasonal specials and upcoming promotions.
Our industry is about to deal with an increase in minimum wage. What’s your read on its impact?
We believe that it’s our responsibility to ensure that our model works for both our employees and our guests.
Talk about the career opportunities and success stories of people that are growing their careers at Chopt?
We take great pride in growing people and careers at Chopt – that’s why we created the Managing Partners Program. The Managing Partners Program provides deserving Operation leaders with a stake in one or more restaurants. To date, we have six Managing Partners across our restaurants and we’re looking forward to adding more in the future.
A great example of this program’s success is Ramiro, Senior Managing Partner at our East 56th St. restaurant. Ramiro began his career with Chopt as a Chopper 15 years ago. His dedication, passion, and work ethic enabled him to stand out among his peers and continually progress up the leadership ranks. Now he oversees not one, but two of our busiest New York City locations, and continues to serve as an inspiration for the entire organization.
Your firm seemingly has been able to find success in both urban environments including Manhattan and in the suburbs (Greenwich-Mt. Kisco). What are the differences and how have you accomplished that?
We believe in community first, whether that’s a neighborhood in Manhattan or a town in the suburbs. Although there may be differences in consumer behavior, we find that the demand for healthy, flavorful foods extends well beyond New York. Our mission is to make it accessible to as many people as possible.
What’s on the horizon for 2017?
We want to continue to look for great new opportunities to grow the Chopt brand, especially in areas that might not have the access to affordable, healthy, fast food options.
To learn more about Chopt, visit their website.