Tech An obscure salad chain backed by Shake Shack's founder is about to blow up — here's what it's like

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Tender Greens, a healthy fast-casual chain, is expanding to major cities nationwide, including New York City. Here's what it's like to eat there.

A healthy fast-casual chain based out of — where else? — California is expanding nationwide. Tender Greens opened its first outpost in New York City in February to rave reviews.

Tender Greens, which serves plates, sandwiches, and salads made with fine-dining ingredients and sold for fast-casual prices, is in the midst of growing from 28 locations in California and Massachusetts to major cities nationwide including New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, in 2018.

The expansion has been in the works since 2015, when Tender Greens received a minority investment from restaurant mogul and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer.

Tender Greens could give rival Sweetgreen a run for its money. Revenue hit over $80 million in 2016, and company executives said annual sales are growing 20% year-over-year.

We stopped by Tender Greens in downtown San Francisco to see what the buzz is about.

In 2015, Shake Shake founder Danny Meyer said in a statement that he visited a tiny California salad chain and loved the idea so much "that I wish I'd thought of it myself."

In 2015, Shake Shake founder Danny Meyer said in a statement that he visited a tiny California salad chain and loved the idea so much "that I wish I'd thought of it myself." play

In 2015, Shake Shake founder Danny Meyer said in a statement that he visited a tiny California salad chain and loved the idea so much "that I wish I'd thought of it myself."

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)

Source: Business Insider



Meyer's restaurant company, The Union Hospitality Group, made an investment of an undisclosed sum in Tender Greens — its first time taking stake in an outside concept.

Meyer's restaurant company, The Union Hospitality Group, made an investment of an undisclosed sum in Tender Greens — its first time taking stake in an outside concept. play

Meyer's restaurant company, The Union Hospitality Group, made an investment of an undisclosed sum in Tender Greens — its first time taking stake in an outside concept.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


I visited a Tender Greens location in downtown San Francisco during the late afternoon. During the typical lunch hour, long lines wind outside the door.

I visited a Tender Greens location in downtown San Francisco during the late afternoon. During the typical lunch hour, long lines wind outside the door. play

I visited a Tender Greens location in downtown San Francisco during the late afternoon. During the typical lunch hour, long lines wind outside the door.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The menu is divided between signature dishes and custom orders, which include a protein served on a sandwich, as a hot plate with sides, or on a salad. They all cost about $12.

The menu is divided between signature dishes and custom orders, which include a protein served on a sandwich, as a hot plate with sides, or on a salad. They all cost about $12. play

The menu is divided between signature dishes and custom orders, which include a protein served on a sandwich, as a hot plate with sides, or on a salad. They all cost about $12.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Don't let the name fool you. Tender Greens is so much more than a salad joint. Most dishes feature a hearty slab of flank steak, a barbecue chicken breast, or fried chicken pieces.

Don't let the name fool you. Tender Greens is so much more than a salad joint. Most dishes feature a hearty slab of flank steak, a barbecue chicken breast, or fried chicken pieces. play

Don't let the name fool you. Tender Greens is so much more than a salad joint. Most dishes feature a hearty slab of flank steak, a barbecue chicken breast, or fried chicken pieces.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


There's also a rotating menu of seasonal sides, including roasted corn, rainbow carrots, and a salad comprised of quinoa, summer squash, and watermelon.

There's also a rotating menu of seasonal sides, including roasted corn, rainbow carrots, and a salad comprised of quinoa, summer squash, and watermelon. play

There's also a rotating menu of seasonal sides, including roasted corn, rainbow carrots, and a salad comprised of quinoa, summer squash, and watermelon.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


These peaches were used in the day's special Harvest Salad, a mix of red and black plums, peaches, and candied almonds over a bed of greens.

These peaches were used in the day's special Harvest Salad, a mix of red and black plums, peaches, and candied almonds over a bed of greens. play

These peaches were used in the day's special Harvest Salad, a mix of red and black plums, peaches, and candied almonds over a bed of greens.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Tender Greens sources ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, boutique wineries, breweries, and coffee roasters — which means the menu varies greatly by location.

Tender Greens sources ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, boutique wineries, breweries, and coffee roasters — which means the menu varies greatly by location. play

Tender Greens sources ingredients from local farmers, ranchers, boutique wineries, breweries, and coffee roasters — which means the menu varies greatly by location.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


There's another reason for the difference in menus across locations, and it involves this guy. Chef Todd Renner is executive chef of the downtown San Francisco location.

There's another reason for the difference in menus across locations, and it involves this guy. Chef Todd Renner is executive chef of the downtown San Francisco location. play

There's another reason for the difference in menus across locations, and it involves this guy. Chef Todd Renner is executive chef of the downtown San Francisco location.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Each Tender Greens location has an executive chef with a background in fine dining, who shapes the restaurant's menu based on their culinary influences and preferences.

Each Tender Greens location has an executive chef with a background in fine dining, who shapes the restaurant's menu based on their culinary influences and preferences. play

Each Tender Greens location has an executive chef with a background in fine dining, who shapes the restaurant's menu based on their culinary influences and preferences.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Renner cut his teeth in craft pizza restaurants. He studied at the Italian Culinary Institute, which gave him an affinity for simple seasonings and charcuterie.

Renner cut his teeth in craft pizza restaurants. He studied at the Italian Culinary Institute, which gave him an affinity for simple seasonings and charcuterie. play

Renner cut his teeth in craft pizza restaurants. He studied at the Italian Culinary Institute, which gave him an affinity for simple seasonings and charcuterie.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


His background seeps into the menu. At Renner's suggestion, I ordered a hot plate of salmon over sautéed caponata, a popular Sicilian side dish made of vinegar-sweetened eggplant, roasted vegetables, and capers in a sweet and sour sauce.

His background seeps into the menu. At Renner's suggestion, I ordered a hot plate of salmon over sautéed caponata, a popular Sicilian side dish made of vinegar-sweetened eggplant, roasted vegetables, and capers in a sweet and sour sauce. play

His background seeps into the menu. At Renner's suggestion, I ordered a hot plate of salmon over sautéed caponata, a popular Sicilian side dish made of vinegar-sweetened eggplant, roasted vegetables, and capers in a sweet and sour sauce.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Renner plated the salt and pepper salmon and caponata on a beautiful piece of natural wood. The presentation went above and beyond most fast-casual dining experiences.

Renner plated the salt and pepper salmon and caponata on a beautiful piece of natural wood. The presentation went above and beyond most fast-casual dining experiences. play

Renner plated the salt and pepper salmon and caponata on a beautiful piece of natural wood. The presentation went above and beyond most fast-casual dining experiences.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


And it tasted nothing like a fast-casual meal would. I was mesmerized. The perfectly cooked salmon, which I mopped in pesto drizzled on the side, fell apart in my mouth.

And it tasted nothing like a fast-casual meal would. I was mesmerized. The perfectly cooked salmon, which I mopped in pesto drizzled on the side, fell apart in my mouth. play

And it tasted nothing like a fast-casual meal would. I was mesmerized. The perfectly cooked salmon, which I mopped in pesto drizzled on the side, fell apart in my mouth.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


And the caponata was — I'm still speechless. At first, I mistook the eggplant for morel mushrooms, a five-star dining ingredient, because of their tender, juicy flavor.

And the caponata was — I'm still speechless. At first, I mistook the eggplant for morel mushrooms, a five-star dining ingredient, because of their tender, juicy flavor. play

And the caponata was — I'm still speechless. At first, I mistook the eggplant for morel mushrooms, a five-star dining ingredient, because of their tender, juicy flavor.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


I couldn't leave Tender Greens without trying one of its famous signature salads. I ordered the Chipotle Barbecue Chicken salad, which you can find at any Tender Greens location.

I couldn't leave Tender Greens without trying one of its famous signature salads. I ordered the Chipotle Barbecue Chicken salad, which you can find at any Tender Greens location. play

I couldn't leave Tender Greens without trying one of its famous signature salads. I ordered the Chipotle Barbecue Chicken salad, which you can find at any Tender Greens location.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


One chef cut the meat to order, while another sliced the tortilla strips. Seeing the teamwork required reminded me of being in the kitchen at fine-dining restaurants in New York.

One chef cut the meat to order, while another sliced the tortilla strips. Seeing the teamwork required reminded me of being in the kitchen at fine-dining restaurants in New York. play

One chef cut the meat to order, while another sliced the tortilla strips. Seeing the teamwork required reminded me of being in the kitchen at fine-dining restaurants in New York.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The salad was plated on a textured ceramic dish, of course.

The salad was plated on a textured ceramic dish, of course. play

The salad was plated on a textured ceramic dish, of course.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Typically when I think "chipotle salad," I imagine a bed of greens drowning in canned corn, black beans, cheddar cheese, and spiced chicken. Not this salad ...

Typically when I think "chipotle salad," I imagine a bed of greens drowning in canned corn, black beans, cheddar cheese, and spiced chicken. Not this salad ... play

Typically when I think "chipotle salad," I imagine a bed of greens drowning in canned corn, black beans, cheddar cheese, and spiced chicken. Not this salad ...

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, crispy tortilla strips, green onion, barbecue-seasoned chicken, and a cilantro lime dressing offered a refreshing and delicious take.

Romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, crispy tortilla strips, green onion, barbecue-seasoned chicken, and a cilantro lime dressing offered a refreshing and delicious take. play

Romaine hearts, avocado, queso fresco, crispy tortilla strips, green onion, barbecue-seasoned chicken, and a cilantro lime dressing offered a refreshing and delicious take.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


I took home some desserts, including this dulce de leche coconut bread pudding that was rich but not overly sweet.

I took home some desserts, including this dulce de leche coconut bread pudding that was rich but not overly sweet. play

I took home some desserts, including this dulce de leche coconut bread pudding that was rich but not overly sweet.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Though I ran out of room, these cupcakes also looked divine.

Though I ran out of room, these cupcakes also looked divine. play

Though I ran out of room, these cupcakes also looked divine.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


Tender Greens bills itself as "slow food done fast." My food arrived in under 10 minutes and tasted like it could have come from one of Meyer's James Beard-awarded restaurants.

Tender Greens bills itself as "slow food done fast." My food arrived in under 10 minutes and tasted like it could have come from one of Meyer's James Beard-awarded restaurants. play

Tender Greens bills itself as "slow food done fast." My food arrived in under 10 minutes and tasted like it could have come from one of Meyer's James Beard-awarded restaurants.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


The salad chains of the East Coast have some stiff competition coming their way.

The salad chains of the East Coast have some stiff competition coming their way. play

The salad chains of the East Coast have some stiff competition coming their way.

(Melia Robinson/Business Insider)


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