Sal is a senior level manager with more than 20 years of experience in franchising, multi-unit restaurant operations, licensed unit operations, training, brand development, store design, construction management and more.
Over his career he has served in VP roles for noted brands including Planet Hollywood, Border Café, and Five Point Partners (where he was responsible for 25 Five Guys Burgers restaurants).
Most recently he served as VP of Operations for Red Mango and ultimately VP of Real Estate and Construction for its parent company BRIX Holdings where, among many milestones, he helped the Red Mango network open approximately 400 stores in just seven years.
That journey has culminated into his dream job today – overseeing UFood Grill as CEO and launching the growth and development of the healthy fast-casual restaurant chain across the country. Built on the motto that UFood Grill is “Nutritious and Delicious”, good nutrition is more than just a concept at UFood Grill. It is an art, a science and a responsibility. And that makes it the most exciting brand Sal has ever represented.
1. Tell us about the UFood Grill concept.
UFood Grill offers a balanced, healthy dining alternative, is timely, and is resonating with an increasing number of consumers who like fast-casual dining but who are now demanding “better-for-you-food.”
UFood Grill’s menu items are made with higher quality ingredients and healthier cooking techniques than ordinary quick serve food. Consequently, UFood Grill’s menu provides customers with a delicious and healthy alternative to typical fast food options.
At UFood Grill, menu offerings are baked, grilled or steamed but never fried. UFood Grill’s sauces, cheeses and salad dressings are reduced-fat. UFood Grill serves whole-grain breads and side dishes and uses grass fed and free range meats and high quality vegetables.
UFood Grill’s menu contains a wide variety of food types, including hot entrees, burgers, salads, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies, and bowls, each of which is united in the theme that the food is “better for you” than many other dining-out options. Each item is prepared with healthier alternatives in mind, whether an ingredient or a method of preparation and has better nutritional qualities than the equivalent item a consumer might find at a typical quick serve establishment.
2. How and when did you become involved with UFood Grill?
Mr. Rick Golden reached out to me February of 2015 and presented the opportunity of UFood Grill and March 2015 I became the Senior Vice President of Healthy Acquisitions (Parent Company of UFood Grill) and the CEO of UFood Grill.
3. What was your background prior to joining (Company Name)?
I was previously the Vice President of Real Estate and Construction for BRIX Holdings (owner of Red Mango USA brand, Smoothie Factory and Red Brick Pizza), in Bohemia, New York. Where I developed over 350 Red Mango shops in North and South America, to include 100 in Mexico in 7 years. I am a military veteran where I served 8 years in the United States Army.
4. What are some of the advantages in being a UFood franchisee?
With UFood Grill, you are in business for yourself, NOT by yourself. We treat our Franchisees just like family. At UFood Grill, we are with you every step of the way. We facilitate all aspects of the store development to include:
- Site selection
- Submittal of LOI/Lease draft
- Store design
- Grand Opening Support
- Ongoing operational support
- Ongoing marketing support
5. Who is your ideal franchisee?
Our ideal franchisee is someone that has the same passion for the brand that me and my team have. They must have business acumen and a willingness to succeed. If they do not have restaurant experience, then they must provide a plan of action as to how they will run the day to day store operations with a season restaurant manager.
6. Tell us a little about the UFood Grill Industry/Market?
The United States restaurant industry is benefitting from a long-term trend of consumers eating out more frequently. According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry’s share of consumer food expenditures has increased from 25% in 1955 to 47% in the most recent year, and restaurant sales are expected to reach $782.7 billion in 2016, an increase of 4% over 2015 sales. The leading factors contributing to the recent growth have been the growing population, the trend toward busier lifestyles, greater spending on dining and entertainment activities and the increased availability of high-quality dining options.
The recent emergence of the fast-casual dining sector has capitalized significantly on the industry’s expansion. This group, led by companies such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread Company, caters to customers who desire the convenience of fast food, and who are willing to pay a premium for higher quality, differentiated menu items. According to the National Restaurant Association, these consumer preferences have made fast-casual one of the fastest growing sub-sectors within the restaurant industry.
However, the increase in eating out has also contributed to a general deterioration in the health of Americans. Today, obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 34.9% of American adults aged 20 and over, or 78.6 million people, met the criterion for obesity in 2011-2012. In addition, a CDC study indicates that in the past 30 years, the occurrence of obesity in children has doubled, and it is now estimated that one in five children in the United States is overweight.
According to published studies, obese children are more likely to be obese as adults, which lead to an increased risk for a number of diseases including stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes and some cancers. Obesity also contributes to additional negative health consequences, including Type 2 Diabetes, high total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood, sleep apnea and inflammation of the liver. Poor food choices, such as diets high in calories (including fats and simple sugars) and lower in fruits and vegetables are linked with being overweight.
HAC’s management believes that the UFood Grill concept offers a balanced, healthy dining alternative, is timely, and is resonating with an increasing number of consumers who like fast-casual dining but who are now demanding “better-for-you-food.”
7. What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned in growing this franchise?
I believe that slow and steady wins the race. I am laser focused on the Northeast expansion as well as creating realistic development goals for my company. I have learned that America truly want a fast casual restaurant that’s not only delicious, but nutritious as well.
8. Do you have a mentor and is there someone you use for inspiration?
I have many mentors throughout my career and truly cannot pinpoint one particular person. I like to think that I absorbed the best traits from the amazing people I have worked for in the past. I have learned from their mistakes as well as my own.
9. What advice do you have for someone looking to acquire a Franchise?
Do your homework! Purchasing a franchise business is an emotional one. The franchisee has to have an emotional connection to the brand. On top of an emotional connection, you must also ask yourself “do I fit in with the culture of the franchise”. Make sure that the franchisor actually does what they say. I am 100% involved with each and every franchisee.
10. In your opinion, why do you think that UFood Grill would be a great opportunity for someone?
Of course! Like I said, with UFood Grill, you are in business for yourself, NOT by yourself.