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Executive Chat - Darden Coors - Salad Collective

Executive Chat with Rebecca Patt

Featuring Darden Coors, CEO of Salad Collective


Darden Coors is CEO of Denver-based Salad Collective, parent company of popular fast-casual chains Mad Greens, Tokyo Joe’s, and Snappy Salads. Darden sheds light on her unique journey into the restaurant business, her ambitious spirit and family roots, and the exciting prospects on the horizon for Salad Collective in 2024.

What are you most excited about with your plans for 2024 with Salad Collective?

I'm most excited about the franchising potential of the company and particularly Mad Greens going into 2024. We think we are set up well to have successful franchising, and that's an area of business we haven't been in before. We're looking to bring in some talented new people and energize the brand with growth, developing from concentric circles around our current markets.

Are you going to be franchising all three of the brands, or just Mad Greens?

We have plans to get Tokyo Joes ready for franchising, and we have a little bit of work to do on the Snappy Salads front, but yes, at least two out of three will be franchising.

Tell me about your career path that led you to become CEO of Salad Collective.

Well, I think it's not very traditional and maybe not helpful for anyone to know about except that if you have a passion, you’ll find a way. I am a lawyer by training and worked in-house with different manufacturing businesses and ended up landing a position at Einstein Noah Restaurant Group as in-house counsel there. I caught the restaurant bug. As you know, the people are amazing. It's a fast pace. There's always something new. There's always something to learn. So, I took away from that experience a desire to get back into restaurants at some point in my career.

We had the opportunity to be a majority partner with Mad Greens back in 2013 and led the expansion of the brand at that time. Then we took a little pause from growth and got the opportunity to acquire Snappy Salads and two years ago, Tokyo Joe's.

Will you continue to look for more acquisitions?

We've been targeting our growth through acquisition over the last five years or so, and that's worked well for us. I think with COVID a lot of the opportunities either dried up or changed. So, we're always looking for things in the healthy space, but our focus right now is growth through franchising. When the right opportunity presents itself, certainly that's something we'll consider.

What is your 2024 prediction for the restaurant business?

Oh, that's a great question and I wish I knew, then I might feel very much more confident growing into 2024. I think that global flavors have been on the rise for many years, and I think they're really finding their own. So, I think we'll find a lot more growth in menu items and concepts outside of your pizza, fried chicken, burger kind of concepts. And certainly, in our businesses, we're looking at global flavors, especially on the Tokyo Joe’s side, we’re looking at Thai to Japanese to some other pan-Asian countries. On the salad side, we have our own spice. So, I think, leaning into the spices and the global flavors and finding more adoption throughout.

I understand that Tokyo Joe's is a very beloved brand.

They have a great kind of cult following. They’ve been around 27 years now and are a pioneer in the fast casual space in the Denver market, and they still have a very loyal fan base today.

How do you think your entrepreneurial family legacy as part of the renowned Coors family inspires you in your career?

I think that there is great pride and also pressure. Maybe pressure is not the right word, but there's a heaviness, I think, to what I put on myself as far as understanding the legacy that I came from. My family has been entrepreneurial for 150 years now, and to have something built that long ago still last today is one of those things where I think, how can I live up to that? But also, it's inspiring to think I could live up to that, and I could contribute in my own way, to have the opportunity to try in this restaurant space to grow something that will have a lasting impact on the restaurant scene and our communities for years to come is really sort of my mindset.

Also, there’s that connection to the farmers, our distributors, and our guests that we've had for 150 years in our family and being that sort of consumer facing brand that the beer side. I think it's a little intimidating at first, but after having jumped into this more entrepreneurial role than I've had in the past, it has been refreshing and brought a new meaning to my career.

Just curious about your name, Darden. Where does that come from?

Well, I tell two stories. I'm really named after a gal who was a few years older than my mom at camp every summer in North Carolina. Her name was Darden Fowler, and my mom really liked her. She was very nice to my mom and a very good horseback rider and all those things that campers love. But after I was born, we learned that my dad had a cousin named Darden Diana, so it’s also a family name.

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