Had a great opportunity a few days ago to meet up for lunch with Lucas Clarke, the Chief Marketing Officer at Mad Greens. I invited my oldest daughter along, an avowed vegan, since I thought she’d be most interested in talking with someone whose business is finding the intersection of healthy and popular. We met up at the Boulder Mad Greens, a restaurant we have frequented many times, and tried out the newest items on their menu, grain bowls.
Before I go further, a quick heads up that Mad Greens is what I see as the evolution of the “salad bar” concept that was so popular a decade or two ago. I remember Sizzler was known for its huge salad bar with dozens of ingredients that you could add to what started out as a modest salad and inevitably ended up huge by the time you got back to the table. There are still places with make-your-own salad bars, but the concept is definitely less popular, and based on the Mad Greens reinvention, it appears people tired of making their own ingredient choices and prefer having someone come up with a fun, lively and flavorful combo instead.
Mad Greens isn’t just salads, however: they have delicious soups (tho my favorite, a wonderfully spicy and low-cal Green Chili is no more, it’s not being made by their supplier any more, sadly), can turn any salad into a wrap (something I like to do since it’s easier and more convenient eating) and grain bowls. If you know their menu, you’ll realize that grain bowls replaced their panini sandwiches which were good but were inefficient during the lunch rush. Lucas explained how with just a few panini presses they could end up with a customer waiting 10-15 minutes during the busiest hours for their sandwich. Not good.
The salad line is far more speedy, and as you can see, your salad moves along with you as employees add ingredient after ingredient based on your order and preferences:
We couldn’t help notice that my daughter’s favorite salad, the “Dionysos”, was gone from the menu. Lucas explained: people couldn’t pronounce die-oh-nie-sis, so they renamed it the “Athena”. I bet that the success of Wonder Woman influenced that decision too, but we might never know. It’s a salad that has tomatoes, Kalamata olives, cucumbers, and feta, along with red wine vinaigrette dressing.
Speaking of dressings, a fun fact: Mad Greens makes all 19 of their dressings fresh every day. You can see them in the dispensers above, actually. Not only that, they also make and prep all of their salad ingredients fresh too, from chicken to chopped tomatoes.
Since grain bowls were the newest items on the menu, I followed Lucas’ suggestion and had a Southwest Bowl:
It really was ridiculously tasty with its avocado, salty cotija cheese and southwestern chicken, tomatoes and corn, all atop a bed of wild rices and mixed up with their cilantro chili lime dressing. My daughter had a salad and some of the Buddha Bowl with tofu, spinach, edamame and other tasty ingredients, and raved about how delicious it was.
We also tried some of the fresh juices that are another relatively new – and popular – addition to the Mad Greens menu. They’re expensive at over $6.00 per juice, but are made fresh in house twice-daily and were quite tasty, definitely a healthier alternative to my usual iced tea or water drink.
Lucas, whose official title is Head Lettuce Juggler, was a charming host for our lunch and shared a lot of insight into the evolution of Mad Greens and how they have constantly evaluated menu items and tested out different flavors and styles of eating. They know that their menu isn’t particularly appealing to teen and twenty-something men, a demographic he said the industry refers to as the “HYM” group. HYM? Hungry Young Men. They’re the main audience for Five Guys Burgers and similar, not so much interested in a light and healthy salad. I know this first hand too: When I’ve taken all the children to Mad Greens, my teen son has often split off to grab a burger at Five Guys and rejoin us at an outside table for a shared meal.
If you’re not in the HYM demographic – or, heck, even if you are! – I encourage you to find one of the now 32 different Mad Greens stores throughout the midwest and give ’em a whirl. It’s fast, tasty and healthy, all served in a restaurant with a bright and cheerful design.
Disclosure: Mad Greens paid for our lunch in return for me writing about the experience. Totally worth it. 🙂