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Evergreens

On-demand, real food

How many times have you been pressed for time, hungry, and wanted a healthy option? Conservatively, a gazillion. Since 2013, Evergreens has filled that need, deliciously.

Evergeens' view of healthy eating means all natural 'food from the earth.' No additives, colors, nitrates, sulfites. "It's real food," says co-founder Hunter Brooks. "You will get the nutrients you need from this food. We use no vegetable or canola oil, only olive oil, for health reasons, quality, and flavor. Our proteins follow the same guidelines."

Nine salads make up the menu; four are classics which stay on all the time, five are swapped out seasonally (spring/summer, fall/winter), plus there's a monthly special. You can also customize your salad, and any bowl can be a salad, wrap, or grain. All are one price, even if you customize, unless you choose a premium ingredient or add a protein.

At their commissary kitchen, they make their own sauces, dressings, pickles. Anything that is treated or roasted (pickled onions, roasted cauliflower) is handled there and transported to the stores. Dressings are small batch and some, like cilantro-lime, are finalized at the stores (adding fresh cilantro). Catering is handled from the kitchen as well. There is a minimum of 10 people per catering request. They can order individual bowls for each guest; or family-style bowls, serving 5-7 guests each. Even more fun is the Mobile Salad Bar where they set up a real salad bar for a minimum of 20 guests.

"We get a lot of online orders," says Hunter. "People use our loyalty app. If you're busy, you don't want to go inside a store. This way you can order ahead. Two of our stores have outside windows so you don't have to pick up inside."

Since day one, all of their packaging has been compostable. "Six years ago, this was harder to find, and we pay a higher price for it. But it's important to us. Back then, minimum wage was a hot topic, but we built it into our model from the beginning. We want our employees to make a living wage."

Co-founders Hunter (right) and Todd Fishman (left), both local Eastsiders, found themselves working in New York City, Hunter in 2009 for ESPN, and Todd in 2010 for Expedia. They'd known each other growing up in the same neighborhood and going to the same schools but had gone their separate ways to college. Renewing their friendship in New York, they hung out together on weekends. Both had entrepreneurial aspirations and often discussed business ideas.

Hunter was health-minded and loved that in New York it was easy to find quick, healthy bites. "I couldn't do heavier food and function at work," he recalls. "I stumbled on several concepts where good food was available on demand, and I'd think, 'Why don't we have anything like this in Bellevue or the West Coast'?" He and Todd realized they had the perfect storm of factors: they liked to eat healthy, had a business idea that was a no-brainer in an untapped market, had no desire to climb the corporate ladder, and nothing was tying them down. In 2012, they set up five meetings in a week with people while in Seattle. "Without us asking, three people said it was a good idea and if we did it, they would want to see the business plan. We knew the idea had legs."

By fall, they committed, quitting their jobs and spending a month in New York working on the business plan. In November, they moved back to Seattle and set up meetings with everyone on their list of who might help. By August of 2013, they had raised enough money to open their first store, at Third and Marion in downtown Seattle. "It was almost a year to the day from our first 'salad email' to each other. Originally, we passed on the location. It had seemed too small and decrepit and we couldn't do nights or weekends there. We had a flagship store in mind on a main intersection of downtown," Hunter laughs. "Once we looked around more and met landlords who were concerned about our lack of experience in running a business and our young age, we realized options might be limited. We went back to Third and Marion, did a massive clean-up and remodel, and it has worked out great."

They hired an equity partner, Ryan Suddendorf, who had restaurant experience, helped develop the menu, and handled operations. "He really ran that first store, although we were all there all the time," says Hunter. "We had lines, good sales, and people were starting to talk about us." They worked on improving the speed of the lines, managing food costs, and remodeled the store four times. When they opened their second store, at 6 th & Olive, in November 2014, they knew how to function at a high level in a small space. The first store was 732 square feet, the second just 12-15 feet wide. "It was a tiny urban space with a mezzanine. We learned how to get the foot traffic through efficiently, and were able to get better, smaller spaces with lower rent.

Commissary kitchen with a view of Lake Union

"We wanted to build a culture: a fun place to work, access to healthy food, a place that rewarded hard work. That culture started at the first store, and our metrics are strong. Turnover is below industry standards. Over the past two years, we haven't lost a GM, and have tripled in size, and all GMs have been promoted from within." They've continued to fund their growth externally due to the fast pace of growth. In the first two weeks of April, they opened three stores, including one at the Central Terminal at Sea-Tac International Airport. The airport location also offers breakfast and soups.

Tom Small came on as COO in November 2016. He has a long background in culinary with Opper Melang, Restaurants Unlimited, The Lobster Shop, Nordstrom, and is developing new menu items. At the end of March 2019, Ryan left to open his own restaurant, Arriba Cantina.

"Overall, we want to make life healthier for our staff, guests, and communities, and create a sustainable business," says Hunter. With 18 stores, we can only hope they have the energy to sustain themselves. At least we know they're eating right.

evergreens.com

Connie Adams/June 2019


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