September 12, 2011

Inspired salads fill niche on Harmony corridor

Europeans sniff at what they call the “American salad,” that plate of greens put in front of wild-eyed diners who cannot wait to stick a fork in something, anything. Restaurateurs Marley Hodgson and Dan Long might agree.

“We think too many restaurants make salads an afterthought,´ said Hodgson. “We take food very seriously. Fast casual is not fine dining, but that’s no reason for it not to be good.”

Anyone who has sampled the salads at Mad Greens Inspired Eats – and pondered the possibilities of 27 original dressing recipes made in house-understands that levity and seriousness go well together.

“Dan and I have been best friends since the first grade,´ said Hodgson. “We are both from New York and both went to Colorado College. We realized that we were spoiled by the fact that in New York good food was too easy to get. In 1991, there were some fast food and dining chains in Colorado Springs. It was a shock.”

Fast forward to 2004. Hodgson has an MBA from the University of Colorado. Long has quit trading equities on Wall Street to attend the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.  

“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do something with salads?’´ said Hodgson. “There was definitely a niche here. At the moment, there are no big guys doing what we’re doing.”

Given the growth of Mad Greens, the “big guys” may soon be taking notice.

Hodgson and Long opened their first location in Centennial in 2004; as of January, there were eight, one of which is at the corner of Timberline and Harmony, next to Chipotle (another Colorado-born fast-casual place that started small, was part of the ultimate “big guy,” but is now back in the hands of the originators).

“The first place we looked in Fort Collins was downtown. But we couldn’t find a location that matched our needs,” Hodgson said. “Then we saw what was going on along the Harmony corridor, and it looked good. We think we will eventually have two more Mad Greens in the Fort Collins area.”

Hodgson noted that while having more locations gives the company more buying power, which translates into getting better quality produce, hiring, training and keeping good people gets tricky.

“When we had the first place in Centennial, Dan and I could oversee the service; it wasn’t hard to make sure that the culture was really clear,” he said. “With multiple locations, that is more of a challenge. At lunch, with 300 to 400 people coming through the line, it’s important to have someone behind the counter willing to help the customer. We are a volume-based business that is price-sensitive, but service is key.”

Hodgson and Long plan to take their concept beyond Colorado’s borders eventually. The Midwest is calling (literally); Texas and the coasts look appealing. Market research will probably make the next call.

A room with a view

Some restaurants do not need market research to identify the ideal, or only, location.

“We know our customers by the airplanes they fly,´ said Linda Belleau, owner of the Barnstormer Restaurant, located in the terminal of the Greeley-Weld Airport, just a few feet from where the planes pull in and park. “Some of the old timers liked the original restaurant. It was more of a club when it seated about 20. Now we can seat 100 here in the new terminal.”

There is no question about the Barnstormer’s target market. Model airplanes hang from the ceiling, and the walls are covered with pictures of small airplanes in flight.

“Our customers bring us pictures of their planes so they can be part of the place,” Belleau said. “They appreciate having a restaurant where they land.”

Indeed, one cannot just taxi into town for a burger. Belleau understood the value of the place and bought it in 2001.

“I liked it for the aviation part,” she said. “My father was a top gunner on a B-17 in World War II. Lots of vets come into the restaurant just to talk. Now the kids coming back from Iraq are coming in. The Air National Guard station is just next door.”

All along the Front Range, there are only three ramp-side restaurants, and only two of them are full service – and only this one has a mother/daughter waitress team and the owner in the kitchen.

So find a kid and go to the Greeley-Weld Airport for breakfast (from pancakes to German buffalo sausage) or lunch (from burgers to chicken-fried steak to a New York strip). Watch the brightly painted planes approach, land, taxi up and cut their engines. Dream of flying.

Trini travels

One day there were chokas, those Trini-style hot sauces, and aloo potato pies to be had at 2Mayto 2Mato at Scotch Pines Center in Fort Collins. Suddenly, the sign in front signified nothing, and choka-making sensation Angela Ramdass was nowhere to be found. No worries. The unique blend of flavors from India, Trinidad and Tobago will soon reappear as the Caribbean Food Shack in the Campus West Shell Convenience Store at the intersection of Elizabeth and Shields streets.

“We will now be able to offer sit-down seating with booths in the restaurant section and patio tables/chairs when the weather cooperates,´ said Jerry Poduska, marketing manager. “We will also be open for breakfast, serving Caribbean oatmeal with raisins, coconut and pineapple.”

Healthy. The lunch and dinner menu will include the familiar favorites: island beef and aloo, roti sandwiches, curry chicken in coconut milk as well as vegetarian dishes. Tasty.

Initially, the shack will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Poduska said that plans include expanding hours to 10 p.m. and adding delivery service.

News from Windsor

Chimney Park Restaurant and Bar is doing well by doing good. Chefs Jason Shaeffer and Evey Post announced that Chimney Park helped raise $2,043 for Operation Front Line Colorado and Share Our Strength. The restaurant donated half of the food sales on Christmas Eve and a portion of wine sales for Michael Pozzon Napa Cuvee as part of its December food drive to benefit this worthy organization.

South of Chimney Park, Chef Florian Wehrli will be opening the Chef’s Basket in March at 1345 Water Valley Parkway – in the space formerly occupied by Alberto’s Express. Aside from the made-from-scratch meals to go, retail and frozen prepared food and cooking classes, the Chef’s Basket will also feature a wine lounge and crêperie.

Chef Florian says he learned to prepare crêpes at his mother’s knee: “She has been known to make crêpes so thin that they only have one side!”

Jane Albritton is a contributing writer for the Northern Colorado Business Report. Her monthly column features restaurant and hospitality industry news. She can be contacted at jane@tigerworks.com.

Europeans sniff at what they call the “American salad,” that plate of greens put in front of wild-eyed diners who cannot wait to stick a fork in something, anything. Restaurateurs Marley Hodgson and Dan Long might agree.

“We think too many restaurants make salads an afterthought,´ said Hodgson. “We take food very seriously. Fast casual is not fine dining, but that’s no reason for it not to be good.”

Anyone who has sampled the salads at Mad Greens Inspired Eats – and pondered the possibilities of 27 original dressing recipes made in house-understands that levity and seriousness go well together.

“Dan and…

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