Salata, the fast-casual concept known for its customized salads, is expanding its lineup with the addition of grain bowls. The bowls are in test until Dec. 15 at seven locations in the chain’s home base of Houston.
“We started looking at trends and seeing what’s hot and what’s moving,” says Josh Graber, Culinary Development Director for Salata. Comfort foods have really surged in popularity during the pandemic, he adds, but people are putting on weight. “We wanted to offer a healthier alternative but stay with warm and fuzzy fall flavors and ingredients.”
So Graber introduced warm farro and quinoa to Salata’s roster of ingredients, allowing guests to add the grains to a customized salad or order them as part of a recommended grain bowl.
Quinoa had previously been an option as a salad topping, but Graber “jazzed it up” with olive oil, fresh Italian parsley and garlic and now offers it warm instead of cold. Same with the farro base. “We have a set recipe for both,” says Graber.
The grains were tested in several ingredient combos, looking at how they worked out with salty, bitter and sweeter flavor profiles. Although guests can build their own customized grain and salad bowls from 50 toppings and bases and 11 dressings, Salata makes recommendations. The farro worked particularly well with spinach, roasted sweet potatoes, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese and calamata olives drizzled with a wild berry vinaigrette, says Graber.
Grain bowls are priced at $9, the same as salads.
“We didn’t offer any preset salads or bowls prior to the pandemic, but we wanted to give customers an easier time of ordering online or from the app and avoid decision fatigue,” he adds. “Now we are continuing testing more preset offerings. Guests already have pandemic anxiety, so we’re trying to keep things simple.”
Graber focuses on adding menu items that cross-utilize ingredients already on hand to simplify execution, too. The only new SKU was the farro; everything else was in house and each Salata location prepares the ingredients from scratch. Only the salad dressings are prepped at a central commissary and delivered to stores.
A new jalapeno-avocado dressing rolled out in August—“my first new launch since coronavirus,” says Graber. It’s now part of the core dressing lineup and Graber is working on further diversifying both the bowl and dressing selection. “We’re tracking the weekly sales of the grains and they’re going in a positive direction,” he says. “I’m planning on growing a bunch of roots off the grain bowl ‘tree,’” he says.
Salata also introduced grains to its catering test menu. The Warm Grain Bowl setup includes a choice of quinoa or farro with 12 toppings and three signature dressings so diners can customize their creation. It comes with multigrain croissant rolls and pita chips and starts at $100 for 10 diners.