The Big Salad founder: 'We're more than just salad'

Jan. 4, 2013 | by Cherryh Cansler

Editor's note: This is just one story in a recurring series that features interviews with top-level execs in the fast casual industry. If you would like us to feature a specific exec, please make your request in an email to Cherryh Butler at

Although salad is in its name, The Big Salad, a chain of restaurants in metro Detroit, is about much more than lettuce, said Founder John Bornoty. The three-unit chain, which serves salads, soup and sandwiches, plans to open 200 more restaurants throughout the next 10 years

Bornoty admits that the brand's drawing card is its entrée salads in which chefs can prepare 17 million custom combinations, but he also believes his focus on healthy, fresh fare at an affordable price, in general, along with a commitment to keeping waste levels low have all contributed to its success.

Bornoty gave an inside look at how he is growing the business launched in 2008, in Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich., an upscale suburb of Detroit. (Click here to see a slideshow of photos from The Big Salad.)

Q: There are many salad concepts popping up; what makes yours different?
: Many of the salad concepts today offer too few choices and sub-standard quality. As our menu states, we have so many toppings that there are over 17 million ways to build a salad. In addition, our menu has much more than salads. We have wraps, six different sandwiches offered on our freshly baked bread which our restaurants bake throughout the day and four to five soups are offered daily. This makes The Big Salad much more than a salad restaurant which welcomes customers into an upscale atmosphere to enjoy a healthy meal at casual prices.

The Big Salad's founder John Bornoty contributes
the chain's success to serving  fresh, healthy fare
at an affordable price.

Q:What is the one thing you wish someone would have told you before you opened the restaurant?
: Don't do it!!! (just kidding). The restaurant business, especially the fast casual segment, is a game of pennies. One or two percent can have a drastic change on our business; 10 extra customers a day is the difference between an average restaurant and a hugely successful restaurant. Having been taught how the "pennies" work would have been helpful.

Q: What do you think will be the biggest trend to shape the Fast Casual segment in 2013?
: I believe that consumers today are more conscious of eating healthy than ever before. With consumers becoming increasingly busier and demanding of healthier alternatives, I believe the healthy eating trend will continue to be the next big growth food segment for the next decade.

Q: You guys are an "environmentally-friendly chain." What are some of the things you do that to help the environment?
: One of the major things we do is to minimize waste. We accomplish this with a just-in-time inventory system that keeps ingredients flowing from loading dock to serving station on a regular basis. We also minimize waste by delivering a significant portion of our unused produce, such as vegetable skins and ends to local schools for use as compost. These practices have resulted in The Big Salad maintaining 2 percent overall waste levels, far lower than the industry-average of 8 percent. Our ultimate goal is to achieve 0 percent waste by incorporating additional ways to repurpose ingredients, such as donating unused ingredients to local farms for livestock feed.

Q: Your plan is to open 200 units in the next 10 years; what has led to this success?
: Our success is the result of focusing on three core areas — brand image, financial systems and hiring practices. Our brand image is based on creating an atmosphere in which our customers can enjoy a healthy meal at casual prices in an upscale atmosphere. In regard to finances, while so many restaurants don't spend enough time on this, we have systems that keep our food costs, labor costs and sales in line with each other. In addition, we hire only about one in 25 applicants, ensuring that we hire the right people and promote the right managers. In short, our brand is solid, our financial systems are focused and our people are the best and brightest we can find, keeping us confident of who we are and what we will become.

Read more about operations management.

Topics: Operations Management

Cherryh Cansler / Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for
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