At Protein Bar, “We’re really good at what we do,” which is offer high-protein, low-calorie fare for customers on the go, says Julie Saliba, head of marketing for the Chicago-based fast-casual brand.
Technomic estimates the chain’s systemwide sales for last year at $25.8 million, a 23% increase over the 2014 tally, and average unit sales of about $1.3 million.
Given those signs of success, some may wonder why the 18-unit chain is working furiously on a new offshoot brand and potential growth engine, Thrive360. In other words, why mess with a good thing?
As consumers’ definitions of healthy eating have changed, Protein Bar’s offerings don’t necessarily fit into everyone’s definition, Saliba says. Enter the offshoot, which appeals to a wider array of ideas about health.
At Thrive360—which has one location in Chicago that opened in May and another on the docket in Denver—it’s less about protein being the hero and more about nutrient-rich items in general filling that role, she says.
That interchangeability shows through in the concept’s focus on customization. Customers can place their orders at a kiosk or with a concierge, Saliba says, and have the ability to make any meal their own by adding or removing certain ingredients. It’s food “made for you, not by you,” she notes.
The menu also includes a make-your-plate option, enabling customers to create their own entree from a number of meat and vegetarian proteins—such as braised beef and organic baked tofu—as well as a selection of sides.
One big change: A greater variety of dine-in experiences, facilitated by flexible seating options including high- and low-tops, as well as bar- and lounge-style seating.
While Protein Bar aims to fit into people’s routines, Thrive360 seeks to help people take a break from them, Saliba says, adding that the offshoot’s vibrant ambiance was designed to feel like a bright sunny day.
Part of its goal is “to create an urban oasis” center around the drink counter, which Thrive360 treats like a bar, minus the booze. The concept offers an option for customers who want to a space to socialize after work but might be “maxed out on coffee” and don’t necessarily want alcohol, she says.
Thrive360 sells kombucha on tap, and serves up kombucha flights and mocktails with flavored ice cubes. The concept is currently hosting complimentary happy hours for groups, and is looking to transition to a daily happy hour special, Saliba says.
Its price point might put customers at ease as well, as most entrees are designed to fall between $7 and $10, with average check so far settling around the $10 mark (slightly lower than the $11.70 average Technomic estimates for its sister brand).
Despite Thrive360’s differentiation, hallmarks of its sister chain are evident at the 1,800-square-foot spot. It offers several of Protein Bar’s signature beverages—including smoothies and juices—which have been a focus at Protein Bar since it was founded in 2009.
Salads, bowls and wraps are staples at Thrive360, too, with trendy items such as bone broth soup also getting space on the menu.
Protein Bar is “aggressively looking” at expansion in its current markets and beyond, Saliba says, with the understanding that each brand will serve slightly different demographics.
“Our intention is to really have a portfolio that meets guests’ needs,” she says, “and we’re not biased [toward one brand] about how best to do that.”