A proper salad can be so much more than just a salad. It can have layers, depth, a mix of distinguishing ingredients as unique and special as the creator itself -- your soul in a bowl. Well, maybe that's a stretch, but for a fast healthy lunch, a tailor-made salad can stave off dullness.
That's the goal for the owner of Snappy Salads, Chris Dahlander. He opened his first Snappy Salads more than seven years ago and this past month unveiled his fifth spot, in Southlake. Yet another is still in the works for a total of six in the area. Six in seven years isn't bad for a budding restaurateur, but Dahlander had some pretty good training along the way.
Dahlander began in the restaurant business at Brinker International, where he worked for Phil Ramano's Macaroni Grill and helped create a mini-Italian food empire. The build-up was epic, some might say, but sometimes the real education comes from learning what went wrong. While Macaroni Grill was great in the beginning, at some point it clearly lost its way.
"It was a death by 1,000 gold fish bites," Dahlander said not with spite, but recalling a painful memory. "They just chipped away at the block too long."
Dahlander is referring to what started as a special dining experience that over time was whittled down by line-by-line budget cuts. Over time lower quality ingredients coupled with curtailments in the atmosphere and amenities meant Macaroni Grill was no longer a special place to dine.
"For instance, managers use to pluck gladiolas from these beautiful arrangements for guests that were celebrating a special event. Those eventually got whittled down to nothing," Dahlander said. "The restaurant just didn't have any soul anymore."
He's taken that lesson to heart, "I've learned that the only thing that matters is people. Motivating people, particularly. Everyone is different, thank God, but being able to relate to people is essential."
With six restaurants that means a lot of delegation and the chance that essence might be lost. Dahlander pointed to a team of general managers that executes his company ethos. "The role of the GM is so important, very time intensive, and one of the easiest jobs to walk away from."
Which is why it's so important to find the right people to fit the job -- managers who are on the same page with his philosophies.
"I talk a lot; I tell the same stories over and over," Dahlander said. "I've told the stories so much they're engrained. It's always about leading people to understand the importance of their role in the store. It's about creating value in a place and simple operating procedures."
Dahlander pointed to one particular rule, a litmus test every new hire, no matter how high they are on the chain, must pass. "There are a few non-negotiables, the first being that everyone washes dishes. We're all the same. And I've had people leave because of that. But, it's a non-negotiable."
In addition to the company ethos, Snappy Salads embraces many eco-friendly initiatives, like long communal tables made from reclaimed wood, counter tops made from recycled beer and wine bottles, biodegradable and recycled materials. It's about creating a unique dining experience that people can feel good about all while staving off salad sameness. Sometimes it's the small things that make all the difference.