Ones to Watch | By Ann Loftin
Restaurants billing themselves as salad choppers are springing up all across the U.S., even in the cactus country of Tucson, Arizona. There, Jeff Katz, along with his wife, Fran, and a business partner, Paolo De Filippis, operates two successful salad quick-serves where customers pick not toppings but choppings.
Think of these restaurants as the leafy green equivalent of Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors, only servers wield knives rather than ice cream scoops.
Katz and his partner brainstormed nonstop to create Chopped. “We made decisions based on what we would like as customers, and we are almost always on the same page.
We knew we wanted fresh, clean, bright, and cheery.” For the bright and cheery effect, Katz tapped his sister, an interior decorator. For the fresh, clean effect, Katz and his partner hired the guy who’d been general manager of a folded Italian restaurant that had been in the space previously. “That was a smart move,” says Katz, “because he had the food and operational experience. He was vital in our getting it done so fast.” That employee remains general manager.
The partners’ initial capital outlay—aside from the cost of the building itself—was minimal. They kept the kitchen and simply updated the restaurant furniture, spending about $150,000 on food, supplies, signage, and other necessities. De Filippis hired the staff. The partners created a salad assembly line, with three staff per line, each person responsible for certain ingredients.
They made themselves sick tasting salad dressings before choosing the right purveyors and invested in the Squirrel point-of-service system, whereby orders go directly from the cashier to the salad assemblers electronically.
“We have people’s salads ready by the time they sit down,” Katz says. He and his partner also decided to print up order cards for the custom salads—customers check off the ingredients they want, and the cashier enters that information along with the order.
Salad prices range from $6.99 to $9.99; customers who can’t make up their minds can order a pre-designed Chopped classic. The salads come with focaccia bread, and panini and soups are also popular. Portion sizes, Katz says, “are very large. Our salads are big. Our sandwiches are big.”
Katz says he enjoyed the whole creative process and certainly was pleasantly surprised by the end result. “It still shocks us, how successful we became so quickly,” he says. “We hadn’t realized how perfect our location was, but it turns out we couldn’t have found a better location if we’d gone out scouting.” The flagship restaurant pulls in a large university population as well as a large office crowd and a solid neighborhood customer base. Online ordering is popular—in fact, by 8:30 a.m. the day Katz spoke to QSR, two lunch orders had already come in. Chopped doesn’t deliver—the ingredients can’t withstand a commute—but the partners do cater large events.
Owners: Jeffrey and Fran Katz;
Paolo de Filippis
HQ: Tuscon, Arizona
Year started: 2005
Annual sales: Not Disclosed
Total units: 2
Franchise units: 0
Within the year the partners opened a second location next door to a Trader Joe’s. They were negotiating for a third when, as Katz says, “the economy tanked, so we stepped back to wait and see what will happen.”
Katz attributes his success to a simple combination: great concept and great service. Katz is especially proud of his bowls and napkins (“those cheap little napkins drive me nuts”), and the cleanliness of his restaurants. “When we see people getting up, we have a person walking toward the table who says, ‘Thanks for coming,’ and then grabs the dishes.”
The ingredients come in fresh every day—from giant supplier U.S. Foods and a smaller distributor based in Phoenix and Tuscon. Katz says the food turns over so fast there’s almost no waste. He would know—he moved his law office into the flagship’s building, so he eats at his own restaurant every day.
“Once we have a third location, we might go to Phoenix and then start thinking about the franchise route,” Katz says.
“I always heard the restaurant business was crazy and miserable and 200 hours a week. But I like it. I’m not going to get back there and chop salads, but I like to kibitz with the customers.”