I have invited Chris Dahlander, a long time friend, entrepreneur, and the creator/owner/operator of the restaurant Snappy Salads, to prepare a guest post. Chris and I have known each other for almost 30 years, he’s a super-interesting guy and I was happy to invite him to write this post for you (and even more excited when he agreed). He occasionally reads my blog and knows the topics I generally cover but I told him he could write about whatever he wanted. If your in the Dallas area, you should go by his restaurant – the food is great, the design of the store is great, and Chris was supporting sustainable design before that catchphrase even existed. Please give him your support.
When Bob first asked me to guest blog for him I thought, “That’ll be easy, I’ve got a lot to talk about. I can’t even say my name in less than an hour.” So I told Bob that I was going to write an article on obesity in America but it was boring and somewhat preachy (we even had a picture of a saber tooth tiger ready to go). Sorry, Bob, for not sticking to the plan. Instead, I thought it might be more interesting to focus on why/how I created Snappy Salads and why I believe that it’s successful.
I created this concept out of desperation. One day on a flight from DFW to LA, after not being able to find anything at the airport to eat, I pulled out my notebook and starting jotting down my ideas for a new restaurant that would be perfect for the airport. It was more of an exercise to calm my mind (I’ve always been a dreamer), but turned out to be the genesis for Snappy Salads. I came up with a few name options and developed the general idea on the plane.
Once I landed, I immediately began to research this crazy idea of a restaurant that only served made-to-order salads. It seems crazy now, but there were really only two or three places that I could find on the internet that were even remotely similar to my idea. I wondered if I might be on to something.
From then on, I ate a ton of burritos, sandwiches, and salads as part of my research. I liked Chipotle because of their efficiency, Freebirds because of its cool vibe, Potbelly’s because of its pricing strategy, and Subway because it was everything that I didn’t want to be. From that point on, every place I went ultimately became research for this concept and was scribbled down in one notebook.
I choose the name Snappy Salads because 1) it uses alliteration, 2) connotes a quick transaction, 3) says to people “fresh,” 4) my grandfather used to say, “Chris, you are looking snappy today!” and most importantly, 5) has the same number of letters in both words. It has balance. And I have come to realize that balance would be a key attribute in my world in myriad ways.
A quick background on me: I worked at Brinker International as the Marketing Director for Romano’s Macaroni Grill from 1996 to 2004. A 210-unit casual dining Italian restaurant chain. It was a great job! In fact, I’ve been to most of the places Bob is visiting this weekend while I try and do justice to his blog. We sold a ton of wine and so I hosted groups of general managers and chefs on red-carpet tours of the wine country multiple times. But that’s not the story. Sorry, back on topic Chris.
One of the revelations I had along the way was that in order for this place to be successful, it had to be a direct reflection of my personal and business philosophies. I wanted it to be healthy. Healthy for the guest. Healthy for my teammembers. Healthy for the environment and healthy for my stockholders. I taped a quote to my notebook that led me through the startup phase, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s hard to make a difference.”
I am an Eagle Scout. I’ve always been concerned about the environment, but up until opening the restaurant, I only recycled paper at the local school. This I knew had to change. “Leave it better than the way you found it” was a lesson I learned while hiking 100 miles at Philmont. When I started talking to suppliers about wanting to use biodegradable take out containers, utensils, and cups you would have thought I had three heads. Most of the food reps politely nodded their head in agreement and then never called me back. Persistence is the other word I have come to personally define.
Thankfully, I found a distributor (Ben E. Keith) that saw the vision and helped me source many of the environmentally friendly items I use today. But that wasn’t all. I decided to use milk paint on the walls, reclaimed wood for the tables and detail work, CFLs whenever possible, hemp uniforms, organic tea, earth-friendly cleaners, and humanely raised meat products. Each one of these was initially greeted with some kind of resistance. As I was confronted with more and more of these objections, I realized that I might be on to something. To this day, most of the industry rags call me for help on stories about “going green.”
The last thing that I really had to worry about was the design. I’m no designer, but I love good design. My friend told me about a noodle restaurant that he visited a lot in the UK called Wagamama. I checked it out online and saw these cool long tables. Perfect! I needed to optimize my seating and live up to the Snappy part of the name. When I told my designer (not Bob), he looked at me, tilted his head, and said with a slight smile, “You realize we live in Texas?” I love my gathering tables. They invite people to sit down together as a community. The first time I saw two friends sit down together after they saw each other in line, I knew that I was on to something.
My tagline is “So good, even guys like our salads.” It’s true. It is commonplace to see four guys in business suits sitting down together eating salads. I really built this restaurant for myself. I put everything into this restaurant. My heart, my soul, my experiences, my hope, my money, my life. It is a mirror image of me and all that I am.
I have GREAT days. I have S#!++% days. More great days now than when I first started, but a s#!++% day will still creep in every now and then reminding me that we are only as good as our last salad. All in all though, I’m happier than I’ve ever been before in my life. I’m learning more and more each day and being challenged in ways that I never knew. When I go to bed at night I’m tired, but I’m always looking forward to the next day.
There are two Snappy Salads so far in four years of existence. Our sales were +7.2% last year and +11.1% in the first quarter of 2010. We were named “Best Salad Shop” by D magazine, “Best Salad” by the Dallas Observer, have a 4.5 star rating on Yelp.com, and were selected as the “2007 Sustainable Business” by the Greater DFW Recycling Alliance. We’re in the process of locating a third location and expect to have it open before the end of the year. We’re also in discussions with DFW airport. I’m on to something bigger than I ever dreamed.
If you are entrepreneurial in spirit, I offer these words in hopes that they inspire you to do things your way. To listen to your internal compass and to persevere regardless of the resistance you might encounter. You can do anything that you put your heart in and mind to. No excuses.
If you’re part of the process, I hope that this cracks the door open just enough for you to take a moment to listen to people like me before moving on to traditional projects. You never know when that voice on the other end of the phone might actually be on to something big.
Thank you Bob, and your readers, for allowing me to guest post this week. I appreciate the opportunity to share my story.