When Michelle Bythewood began working as a consultant with fast-casual salad chain Salata a couple of years ago, she knew the concept needed a fresh look.
When she became the brand’s CMO 18 months ago, her consumer research confirmed that suspicion:
“Customers said, ‘We love your product—your restaurants just aren’t that inviting. They’re sterile,” Bythewood, who spent more than two decades at Schlotzsky's, said.
Now, as Salata’s president since early this year, Bythewood is unveiling the 86-unit chain’s first brand refresh in its 14-year history, complete with a new store design, website, uniforms, logo and, later this summer, a new tech suite.
As of today, many of the changes at the customizable salad chain are aesthetic, including more casual employee uniforms and a modernized logo and website.
But there are more significant structural and operational changes afoot at Salata as well.
A redesigned store prototype debuted earlier this year in Lake Mary, Fla., and a second modernized store is slated to open in July in Lake Charles, La.
“The new prototype is all about the customer experience,” Bythewood said.
About 60 Salata units are in line to be remodeled. All will get efficient combi ovens to more quickly cook proteins. Other high-efficiency back-of-house equipment is being considered.
The front of house is now broken up into several zones, she said. There’s a “power aisle” that allows off-premise customers to head straight for the online order pickup area. There’s a community table with plug-ins for phones and laptops.
Salata is hosting rebranding seminars across the country for its franchisees.
The Houston-based chain operates a test kitchen restaurant there and is now holding quarterly focus groups in the space to test potential new menu items. The chain recently tested a beverage with consumers, Bythewood said, that executives believed to be “a home run.” But it was not a hit with the test audience. “They wanted to see us go in a different direction,” she said.
In August, Salata will roll out a new tech suite, which will include delivery as well as a new loyalty program and app.
“It’s a lot to put on our franchisees,” Bythewood said. “But we’ve been really diligent. … We have intranet. We put all the training materials up on that. Then we bring trainers in, then follow-up trainers.”
Salata, which plans to open 20 units this year, recently hired its first chief development officer as it gears up for growth. David Wheeler formerly served in the role for Focus Brands.