Evergreens Salads has a sense of humor. Each item on the menu has a name that will make you laugh out loud (or at least smirk). One might order, for example, the “Pear-ly Legal” (Asian pears, caramelized onions, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese over romaine and baby spinach), “Dice-Dice Baby” (romaine, roasted turkey, salami, garbanzo beans, basil, cherry tomatoes, jack cheese), or “The Cobbsby Show” (a new take on a traditional Cobb). Evergreens t-shirts carry slogans like “kale me maybe” or “biggest bowls in town.” This new “salad experience” located in the heart of downtown Seattle is all about fun, but don’t let the antics fool you. Founders Todd Fishman and Hunter Brooks mean business, and they’ve done their due diligence to make sure this salad start-up succeeds.
After graduating from the UW, Fishman and Brooks both headed east to experience life in corporate Manhattan. It was there that the childhood friends reconnected, bonding over their shared history and love of salad bars. Yes, salad bars. Seems odd at first, but we’re not talking Old Country Buffet here. The East Coast boasts gourmet salad restaurants so popular there are lines around the block. It was while waiting in one of these lines, remembers Brooks, that the guys said to each other, “This would be killer in Seattle.”
An idea was born and the time was right. “We’re both really entrepreneurial,” says Brooks. “We’d both been in New York for a few years. We were both ready to move on from our corporate roles and head back home.” So the two friends got down to work – fast. “We spit-balled the idea last August ,” Brooks recalls, “quit our jobs in September, moved home in November, signed a lease in May, and now we’re having our soft open on Friday.” (That’s Friday, August 16, just a year from when their initial concept, for anyone who’s counting.)
Fishman, who’d competed in the UW Business Plan Competition in 2009 with Nanocel, took on the task of writing the business plan. By the time Brooks and Fishman moved west in November and teamed up with restaurant manager Ryan Suddendorf, (another UW alum), they had an impressive business plan and were ready to pitch to investors. “We raised money in about three months,” says Fishman.
One of Evergreens’ major investors is Kurt Dammeier of Sugar Mountain Capital, Seattle’s Pasta & Company, Beecher’s Cheese, and other successful restaurant ventures. “He has opened a lot of doors for us,” says Fishman. “He believes in our concept, and thanks to him, we’re getting better pricing, and real estate opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had.” Dammeier has been a great resource for the Evergreens team, but he’s not the only one. “I’d gone through several coaching rounds in the Business Plan Competition,” recalls Fishman, “and seen how much you can gain from mentors and advisors.” So Fishman and Brooks met with as many mentors as they could – 225 to be exact. “We’ve reached out to people, asked questions, and surrounded ourselves with people who are smart and successful,” says Brooks.
They’ve put that advice to use, making sure they have a strong business from the very beginning. “Lots of early-stage entrepreneurs don’t know how to come up with a model, stay on budget, and watch every dollar,” says Fishman. “The restaurant business is expensive, and has a high failure rate. You have to know what you’re doing.”
In the end, Evergreens Salads aims to be a restaurant people will want to come back to. “We’re catering to people who work in downtown Seattle. They sit at a desk all day and they take maybe 30 minutes for lunch, and that’s sacred time,” says Brooks. “The big takeaway,” says Fishman, “is that Evergreens is a great place for people to get a delicious, healthy meal, and have fun while they’re at it.”