Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis
Jeff Levine is creating a salad empire and doing it as quickly as he can. He started planning Salad Creations in 2000 and opened in 2003, offering customers made-to-order salads from a kiosk in a Florida mall. There were a few salad pioneers in New York at the time, but Levine was an innovator in Florida. Just four years later, with the segment growing rapidly, Levine believes Salad Creations will lead the pack.
There are 20 units open, clustered in Florida and sprinkled around the rest of the country in malls and shopping centers. New locations are planned for airports, military bases, and perhaps universities. International stores are operating in Mexico, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico; units are also in the works in Kuwait and Brazil. Levine began franchising in March 2005, and already has close to 100 units sold.
“I started this concept specifically to franchise and grow,” says Levine, who has 18 years of restaurant experience. Previously he founded New York City’s Brother Jimmy’s BBQ and LuLu’s Bait Shack in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Salad Creations features 40 salad ingredients, including vegetables, fruits, cheeses, sliced meats, and 15 homemade salad dressings. “One of the reasons we’re able to grow rapidly,” Levine says, “is because we don’t cook anything on-site. We don’t need hoods, ventilation, or grease traps. Everything is still fresh, and there’s consistency from store to store.” Salad Creations purchases its ingredients from major manufacturers including Tyson and Taylor Farms.
Eighty-five percent of guests choose to create their own salad. Salads begin at $6.59; proteins are extra. Standard choices, ranging from Buffalo chicken to spiced turkey to tuna salad, are $2.25. Premium proteins, including 4-ounce wild Alaskan salmon filets and jumbo shrimp, are $3.50. “This is one of the things that differentiates us,” says COO Mick Owens, who worked with Wendy’s from 1969–1985. “Aside from the proteins, it’s all one price. You can choose three toppings or ten toppings and it’s going to be the same price.”
Also on the menu are 10 featured salads. The most popular is the Chinese Chopstick, made with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, peanuts, Chinese noodles, and Asian peanut dressing and sold for $7.65. There also are wraps, daily soups, and a complete line of smoothies.
The atmosphere is de-signed to be warm and homey, Levine says. Soft greens, yellows, oranges, and purples complement butcher-block tables, walnut chairs, and green tile floors.