Crisp & Green: Raising Its Profile With Its New York City Store

Food & Drink

When Crisp & Green opened its first New York City location on June 1, 2023 in NoMad, its 36th store nationally, it assumed a symbolic role for the growing salad chain. Steele Smiley, its founder and executive chairman, declared, “New York City is the center of the universe when it comes to notable restaurant brands. As they say, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

Franchising has been key to its steady growth. Of its 36 locations, 35 are franchised and only one is company-owned.

Many restaurant chains avoid opening in New York City based of the pricey rents and costliness of entering the market, but Smiley contends that the challenge is worth the risk.

“We’ve been considered the underdog in the business, primarily because people don’t know who we are, and we’re in mostly flyover states,” Smiley stated. Though it can be found in 10 states, many of its shops are situated in smaller, regional markets such as Sioux Falls, S.D. and Bentonville, Ark., where Wal-Mart is headquartered.

Putting itself in the middle of Manhattan will raise its profile, help it get noticed and send a message to its larger rivals, he suggested.

Smiley started out as an investment banker, but left to launch his own fitness boutique Steele Fitness, which he sold. He used the capital to launch his first Crisp & Green in 2016. He learned the ins and outs of running a restaurant by partnering with a close friend Ryan Burnet, who was an experienced restaurateur.

Ready to Take On Its Salad Rivals

Now Crisp & Green, which launched in 2016, is competing directly with Sweetgreen and Just Salad, two larger salad chains, that have carved out their niche in the Big Apple.

But Smiley is undeterred by its larger competitors. “There’s plenty of room in the sandbox,” he pointed out. “It’s no surprise that demand for healthy food has skyrocketed in the last three years.” He noted the disparity of Subway’s growing to over 20,000 locations with only 500 restaurant chains in total, specializing in healthy food.

New York City draws attention

Nor is it doing anything dramatically different at its New York City salad shop. Hence, there are no new menu items that appeal to New Yorkers, though seasonal entries like BBQ Smokeshow Salad and Crispy Teriyaki Grain Bowl will be available.

“We’re generally taking the same approach in New York that we do with all new market entries,” Smiley said, though it may have to scale up inventory if crowds appear.

Expect higher prices in NY

However, it likely will adjust its pricing. Smiley said, “We tier our menu pricing based on the market so price at our New York restaurant will reflect a higher tier.”

Like many of its competitors, it specializes in salads, grain bowls, smoothies and acai bowls. In fact, its business is split about half between lunch and dinner, with breakfast only available in select markets.

Crisp & Green is on a rapid growth trajectory. Smiley noted that it’s primed to open 35 more locations by year’s end, amounting to about 65 and should be at 100 by end of next year. All will be franchised.

Why the Brand Is Diversifying

Smiley’s company Steele Brands, which is based in Minneapolis, also runs three Stalk & Spade, a plant-based eatery in the Twin Cities, and is adding a third brand, Puralima in Minneapolis, due to open in early July. He described it as a “scratch-made kitchen brand serving tacos, burritos, salads, bowls and margaritas.”

He expects to franchise that brand as well. Why diversify with so many new brands? “My partners are asking for more brands,” he replied. “We decided to satisfy the needs of different customers,” he added.

Nothing is definite, but Smiley has his eyes on opening a second Manhattan location in the Financial District and there could be others on the way in Manhattan.

Consumer reaction on Yelp to the New York store was mostly positive. For example, Nancy from New York City wrote, “the ambiance is hip and trendy and the rooftop dining just scales it up. And workers here are friendly and happy. Crisp & Green, you have a new regular.”

But Kristine from Queens called it a place “for healthy options in the NoMad/Flatiron area. They have pre-made bowls you can modify. But I’m not sure what separates it from all the other salad spots, but I would still go again.”

Smiley describe the keys to its success as: 1) Providing skilled corporate support, which it’s done by hiring a new CEO Kelly Baltes in November 2022, formerly president of Maggiano’s Little Italy: 2) Choosing talented franchisees, many of whom operate more than a dozen fast-casual eateries, 3) Site selection and city selection.

A man on a mission, Smiley said, “America needs high quality, low-cost healthy food in their community. There are too many options for unhealthy food.”

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