Saladworks has everything you’d want in a restaurant chain, or at least so says Kelly Roddy, who was named CEO of the nearly 100-unit salad chain Wednesday.
The Conshohocken, Pa.-based brand has a healthy menu with fresh ingredients and customizable products made in front of the guest.
“I think the brand is extremely well-positioned with where the industry is heading,” said Roddy, a 30-year industry veteran who came to Saladworks from Schlotzsky’s, where he had been president. “It has a good menu. Things are extremely fresh. We don’t buy things precut, so it’s very much on-trend.”
The problem, as he said, has been a lack of growth. U.S. system sales have declined slightly over the past five years, while unit count has also declined. Amid that period, the chain filed for bankruptcy protection, the result of litigation stemming from an ownership dispute.
Private-equity firm Centre Lane Partners subsequently acquired the chain.
Roddy believes that the chain under previous CEO Patrick Sugrue laid a strong foundation for franchise growth. And he said that the company has enough interest in the brand to quickly expand the number of locations.
The company believes it can get to double-digit growth rates by the end of the year, something Saladworks hasn’t done in a long time.
“We had 65 inquiries last week,” Roddy said in an interview with Restaurant Business. “We just haven’t been selling franchises. We really have to put more resources toward growth.”
To do that, the company has to focus on store-level profitability, to ensure that these franchisees can make money—which makes it easier for systems to grow as profitable operators look to build more units.
He also said the brand needs to focus on continuing to make the menu more relevant. Saladworks has added grain bowls along with some new breakfast items.
“If you make franchisees successful, they’ll make the brand successful,” Roddy said. “The interest is there.”
The market for salad is there, too, especially among the lunch crowd in more urban areas. Companies such as Sweetgreen, Tender Greens, Just Salad and Chopt have all stepped in to grow quickly and address that market.
That could fuel interest among franchisees who want to take advantage of that market.
“If you have a good menu and a good product and you’re focused on unit-level profitability, then good things will happen and you’ll build a really strong company,” Roddy said.
To be sure, the presence of all those brands makes the market more competitive. And Roddy acknowledged that Saladworks has some work to do on the technology front, something many of its competitors have done well. “We have very little digital sales today,” he said.
Roddy wants to change that, saying that building out its digital platforms is the company’s top priority. The chain just introduced online ordering and is working with several third-party delivery services, though it has to “make that economical” for those franchisees.
Still, Roddy says, the brand has considerable potential. “It’s a 30-year-old brand,” he said. “But I feel like I’m on the ground floor.”
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