Buzzworthy Brands is a bi-weekly Restaurant Business podcast and feature highlighting innovative growth brands. Listen to the conversation with Organic Krush co-founder Michelle Walrath and President/COO Alex Berentzen.
Longtime friends Michelle Walrath and Fran Paniccia were driving their kids around the East Coast to Taylor Swift concerts several years ago and quickly tired of the available fast-food options.
They didn’t want meat with antibiotics or vegetables that were fried.
So, during one car ride, they hatched a plan to create a health-focused restaurant themselves. They had no industry experience, but a couple of days later, they were out looking at available restaurant sites.
The first Organic Krush opened in May 2015 and the chain now has seven units and a commissary kitchen, with a couple more leases signed and plans to open at the new health and wellness center at the University of Richmond next month. Unlike similar concepts in the segment that focus on either juice and smoothies or heartier fare, Organic Krush's lengthy menu offers a full range of drinks and meals.
The Plainview, N.Y.-based concept recently added a new app and loyalty program and has hired several executives from Fox Restaurant Concepts and CAVA.
Here are five more things to know about Organic Krush:
- As the name notes, “organic” is the driving force of this brand. Everything on the menu, from the chili-roasted sweet potatoes to the grilled chicken and grass-fed steak, is certified organic. The only exceptions are a couple of items for which there is no organic option.
- Typical units are 2,000 to 3,200 square feet, with a preference for second-generation restaurant spaces. Most have patio seating. The brand has no plans to do away with dining rooms or go for radically smaller footprints, Berentzen said. “People have such a desire and a need to be social,” he said.
- Organic Krush sales dropped 80% in the early days of the pandemic, and the company started offering groceries and “survival kits” with coffee beans, gluten-free baked goods and other essentials. “We’ve made a pretty good comeback,” Berentzen said. “The number of tickets decreased but the check average increased. I don’t know what’s going to happen this winter, but most of our stores have done a full recovery. And a couple are up year over year.”
- The brand is launching a full meal plan program in February, in partnership with a nutritionist, “celebrity” trainer and the chain’s founding chef. There will be three categories of meals—plant strong, deep nutrition and muscle max—with some customization available. The plans will offer breakfast, lunch and dinner for six days.
- Employee retention has been a big focus during the pandemic. The chain gave all hourly employees a $2 raise, as well as offering a free meal and immune-boosting juice each day, and enhanced benefits and sick pay.