For more than a decade, Tender Greens has been serving "fine casual" meals — think Chipotle on date night — to hungry, health-conscious crowds in California. Lines are typically out the door at 24 sunny locations, from San Diego to San Francisco. Now the company is hoping its West Coast vibe can thrive in the East, with an infusion of cash from the man behind Shake Shack.
New York City restaurateur Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group took a minority stake in Tender Greens two years ago, and now they are taking action on a plan to double the restaurant concept's reach over the next three years, starting with openings in Manhattan and Boston this winter. The chain — which launched in Culver City, California, in 2006 — plans to bring its farm-to-fast-food-counter approach to customers from New England to D.C.
"We're replicating what we did successfully over the last 11 years but in a different climate and with a new customer base," said chef Erik Oberholtzer, who founded the company with fine-dining veterans David Dressler and Matt Lyman. Back then, the concept was a head-turner. At a time when fresh, chef-made lunches and dinners meant sitting over a white tablecloth, Tender Greens filled a void: You could now enjoy your steak or herb-encrusted tuna even while wearing flip-flops. Local beers are on tap. Meat is sliced at a carving station, though vegans do not leave disappointed.
Each location is run by its own chef and has a different menu. Customers order at a counter fronting an open kitchen and choose proteins such as roasted fish and slow-cooked shank with plentiful options to make bowls, sandwiches and salads. Eggs are free-range. By sourcing in volume from a network of California farms, the chain kept high-quality meal prices in the $10–$15 range, well below what fine-dining establishments next door was charging.