While running his own sports supplement and smoothie shop in Colonia, N.J., Rod Silva found it difficult to find healthy lunch options he could eat on the go. Like most "healthy eaters," he packed his own lunch from home since healthy fast food wasn't an option. It wasn't long before he was creating meals for some of his regular customers, who saw him eating his lunch at the shop and requested similar healthy options. The popularity of his food eventually led to the opening of the first Muscle Maker Grill in 1995. The grill serves "healthy" wraps, sandwiches, pastas and soups. It also has a variety of options for people on special diets, including, vegetarian, gluten-free, low-calorie and low and no-carb.
Silva partnered with industry veteran Arthur Gunther, former president of Pizza Hut, and began franchising the concept in 2009. Today, Muscle Maker Grill has 64 restaurants open and 21 under development.
|Rod Silva, CEO, Muscle Maker Gill
Silva discussed with FastCasual.com why he thinks his healthy concept is catching on all over the country.
Q: Why did you want to launch a restaurant around healthy cuisine?
Silva: Being personally interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I recognized a void in the marketplace for flavorful, healthy options. I wanted to make it both easy and enjoyable for people to eat healthy while dining out by offering dishes that incorporate tasty flavor profiles, but are cooked using healthier methods of food preparation and better-for-you ingredients.
Q: Were you afraid people would be turned off by the word, "healthy" and not want to eat there?
Silva: I was not afraid in the least bit that people would be turned off by "healthy." I think people generally are looking for ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and will choose a healthy dining option over other choices if it is great-tasting, convenient and competitively priced.
Q: How do you go about dispelling the myth that healthy food tastes bad?
Silva: People eat with their eyes first, so we place a big value on the visual appeal of our food. All of our advertising and marketing materials include eye-catching food shots, and these are also showcased in most of our storefronts. However, one bite is all people need to be convinced that it is possible to eat healthy and enjoy the food you are eating.
Q: What is the growth plan?
Silva: We currently have 65 units open and we have several development agreements in place. We expect to open another 35 to 40 units each year over the next three years.
Q: Why do you think the concept grew so rapidly in 2012?
Silva: I think the growth of the concept in 2012 can be attributed to a system of passionate franchisees that are helping to increase awareness of the brand through their commitment to offering quality, healthy meal options and a friendly dining atmosphere. In addition, the audience of consumers looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle continues to expand, and Muscle Maker Grill is in the perfect position to meet their needs.
Q: What is your advice to concepts that may not be enjoying as much growth?
Silva: My advice is to pay close attention to your customers' needs and requests. Now more than ever before we have the opportunity to gain valuable customer insight through the use social media.
Q: Do you have plans to go international?
Silva: We have been focused on our core markets thus far, but we are receiving a lot of interest from international markets and are currently exploring the best strategic partners.
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Cover photo: Muscle Maker Grill's Penne with Marinara sauce.
Cherryh Cansler has been a reporter and editor for nearly 15 years, writing on a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry to business and health and fitness news. Before joining Networld Media Group as managing editor of Food/Retail Publications, she was content specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City and has served as editor for several publications. She's also written for several daily newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine.