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Emerging Brands

How a former fitness exec is using free workouts to build a fast-casual brand

Crisp & Green offers yoga classes, running clubs and more alongside its salads, grain bowls and smoothies.
Photograph courtesy of Crisp & Green

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The concept: Crisp & Green

The details: A five-unit, Minnesota-based fast-casual chain that’s focused on health and wellness.

The backstory: Steele Smiley, the founder of Steele Fitness (later acquired by Snap Fitness), got into the restaurant business in 2016 with the opening of the first Crisp & Green. The chain offers regular, free fitness classes inside its stores, including lunchtime running clubs, morning yoga and bootcamp, and goal-setting workshops. Units are typically 2,500 to 3,500 square feet with 55 to 75 seats. The menu is focused on salads, both curated and customizable, as well as grain bowls, smoothies and inventive kids offerings such as the Smash Bowl with brown rice, roasted chicken, bacon, avocado, queso fresco, apples and housemade ranch dressing.

Why it’s worth watching: Crisp & Green has two units under construction, both slated to open before the end of the year. Former NBA player Kris Humphries is a franchisee, with an agreement to develop seven locations. Smiley, given his fitness chain experience, is well-versed in the world of global franchising. The chain is growing its brand with community partnerships and wellness offerings.

fall menu items

Photograph courtesy of Crisp & Green

HERE ARE FIVE GROWTH-MINDED QUESTIONS WITH CRISP & GREEN FOUNDER STEELE SMILEY:

Do you see any parallels between your work in the fitness space and now in restaurants?

I don’t look at what I’m doing now very differently than what I was doing before. It’s still the wellness industry. People still need to eat better to fuel their life. People still need to work out better to fuel their life. It truly is a unique hybrid. I look at it as the same industry. We’re still serving people a wellness alternative. … Our fundamental goal is to teach people how to live their healthiest life.

  1. How are you using the free fitness classes to build your brand?

Almost every day, there’s a free activity. We did over 250 fitness classes last year. We don’t look at it as a sales driver as much as we look at it as a service to the community. While it’s complimentary, it builds a really good, strong bond with the community. People are appreciative of the complimentary services we provide. We’re driving thousands of people through the stores. … We all want traffic. I chose to build traffic not by discounts or coupons. I’m driving traffic by giving away what I know best, which is fitness.

  1. You mentioned that your dinner business is equal to that of lunch. How have you encouraged sales during that often tricky daypart?

We have a great daytime population but also a very fantastic dinner (population), which is unique for our category. We cater to the family. We have a full-service kitchen back of house. Nothing is prepackaged or precut. Everything is done from scratch. We husk the corn every day. It’s a fairly simplistic menu, but it really is a from-scratch menu. … I had my own to children build the (kids) enu. It’s all whole ingredients. We sat them in the kitchen. They’ve grown up with me in the wellness area. [I told them], “Build something you guys will eat.” We paired them with our culinary team.

  1. Who’s a typical Crisp & Green customer?

There’s three unique groups. There are wellness customers who just participated in a class. There’s the traditional lunch or dinner crowd in there for a quick meal. No. 3, a big part of our business is families. We have a from-scratch kids menu and do a lot of kids activities, too. We’re catering to a lot of different people.

  1. Do you offer delivery?

We have tested third-party delivery. It can certainly be problematic. We feel we deliver the world’s best product in our category and putting it in the hands of someone else to deliver it (can be risky). You can order online and pickup … [but] our stores house people. A lot of the brands in our space are going more delivery-only, and we love to house that community, not usher them out as soon as we can.

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