Bellevue natives Hunter Brooks and Todd Fishman moved to New York for corporate jobs and discovered a restaurant market that didn’t exist in the Pacific Northwest — quick, healthy meals for a reasonable price.
In New York, Brooks said, it was the first time they’d really experienced that trifecta of nutritious meals on the go that didn’t sacrifice flavor, price, or time. They saw the Pacific Northwest as an untapped market, so the pair quit their jobs, developed a business plan to open a healthy, “fast-food” salad restaurant, and moved back to the Seattle area.
“If you look at restaurant concepts, what’s prevalent is a lot of fried food, unhealthy things, and processed ingredients that we all know about,” Brooks said. “One of the ways we plan to disrupt that is by saying there doesn’t have to be a trade-off. If you want something quick, and healthy, boom, there’s Evergreens. It’s something we’re very passionate about.”
Brooks and Fisher didn’t have a culinary background, so they brought on Ryan Suddendorf — who has a restaurant background and attended the University of Washington with Brooks — as the third co-founder and vice president. Together, they opened the first Evergreens location in Seattle in 2013.
The healthy, fast, casual restaurants serve up hearty, customizable salads, wraps, and grain bowls with pun-infused names like “Cobb Your Enthusiasm,” and “Apple Bottom Greens” made with select organic ingredients and produce sourced locally when in season.
The trio run six locations in Seattle, and in December, opened their first Bellevue location on 110th Street at the downtown transit center. The new restaurant is a major milestone for the co-founders, who have wanted to bring the business to their hometown for five years.
“If you want something quick, and healthy, boom, there’s EvergReens.”
Real estate was challenging in finding the right Bellevue storefront because of redevelopment that made it impossible to sign a long-term lease, and at one point, the vacancy rate was less than 1 percent, Brooks said.
“This is a big deal for us,” he said. “We’re super-stoked to come to Bellevue finally.”
Locations in Kirkland, SeaTac, and more in Seattle are coming soon. Brooks said they’d like to have 15 to 20 restaurants by the end of 2018, and they have their eyes on other Eastside cities. He also said they’re interested in expanding to the South Sound and Portland.
Business has been thriving, but the concept of serving mostly salad — a feature that makes them stand out — was also a challenge in the beginning.
“We had a firm belief there was a need (for Evergreens), absolutely, but at the same time, there was more concern around the education and understanding of it,” Brooks said. “People would walk into our store, and at the time, we only had salads, no wraps or brain (grain) bowls. They were confused we didn’t have sandwiches or paninis or soups. They’d say, ‘So you just have salads?’ And there’s a level of education to it.”
There’s a stigma attached to salads as being more of a side dish than a whole meal, so Evergreens offers good portions and protein. Though there’s been some inquiry about adding sandwiches to the menu, Brooks said they want to stick out from the cafés and delis as a “salad-centric and green-centric space.”
“Another element is sandwiches tend not to be as healthy,” he added. “As much as everyone loves a good sandwich, it’s easy to load it up with cheese and mayo and carbs. At some point, we’ll probably test soups because that’s pretty on-brand.”
The co-founders also are trying to create a culture that attracts employees not just for a job, but as an opportunity to work for a company that values health and people, and provides opportunity to rise up the ranks. Every employee is offered a “live the brand bonus” of $40 a month to put toward something active, like a yoga class or gym membership, and each gets a free meal every shift.
The three also are interested in bolstering their technology with an app and in-store kiosks that allow customers to order quickly. They’re already utilizing online ordering, which makes up a sizable percentage of Evergeens’ sales.
“We’re always testing and developing,” Brooks said. “As we grow, we’re cultivating all the feedback and putting it to use with technology to create the best experience.”