Will a franchise that encourages you to bring your own bowl and bikes their deliveries thrive in the land of Tex Mex and BBQ? Javier Bueno, owner of Third Coast Produce, thinks so. He and his wife Teresa signed a franchise agreement to open 20 Freshii stores in the Houston area, the first locations in 2010.
The Chicago-based company originated in Toronto, where founder/CEO Matthew Corrin opened the first locations (then called Lettuce Eatery) in 2005. You may have seen him talk about the company's inception in a Visa Business commercial. Corrin bills his creation as "...the new generation of quick service dining. We offer a delicious, fully customizable menu you can eat from every day, to suit any diet. Our atmosphere is chill, our staff -- friendly, our packaging -- co-friendly, and our ingredients -- fresh, whole, simple, and honest." No, it's not a misprint. He said "chill."
The restaurants offer packaging made from eco-friendly biodegradable vegetable starches. Their prep process of "shaking [the] meals" in biodegradable bags is five to seven times more efficient than washing dishes, and if you bring your own bowl, they will "gladly" wash it and fill it with your meal. Everything in the stores either biodegrades naturally into the earth or is easily recyclable. The restaurants themselves are custom designed to use fewer and greener materials; "no energy-hungry dishwashers, hoods, ranges, or ovens." Deliveries are biked or walked (I'll be interested to see if this is the case in Houston, considering that yesterday's high with heat index was 108 degrees.) Freshii also claims to only buy from farms with environmentally responsible growth methods, where workers are treated and paid fairly.
Freshii isn't very chill when it comes to health. Slackers be forewarned: The online menu features a nutritional value calculator at the bottom right, which totals the stats of your meal as you check off items, and potential source of major time suckage and/or guilt. Freshii's fare consists mainly of build-your-own salads, wraps, rice bowls, and soups personalized with ingredients from three categories: "light," "balanced," and "classic" (we're guessing classic = naughty). But I didn't realize how deep the rabbit hole went until I came across an satirical April 10 press release issued in response to two caloric chart toppers, KFC's Double-Down and IHOP's Pancake Stacker. It reads:
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"Been to panckake heaven, done the chicken bun, don't miss Freshii's new atmospheric twist. Salad, meet air...Freshii's Light As Air marries fat-free, zero-calorie lettuce filled with organically grown air, all surrounded by a double dose rainbow of zero-calorie oxygen molecules. Light as Air is available solo or in a combo meal, which marries hydrogen and an extra helping of oxygen to the mix."
So...um...can I get bacon on that?
Freshii's manifesto may feel a bit radical, but as long as there are 10-minute lunch breaks, desperate dieters, and exhausted soccer moms, there will be a market for fast and fresh. Their business model is clean, minimalistic and hip, while giving diners the feeling that they did something good for the environment and their bodies, just by eating there. If the stores are well managed and the produce quality is kept a top priority (per the website) the Houston stores should do quite well, in both Inner Loop and suburban regions.
Check out what our sister publication in Denver had to sayabout Freshii back in May.