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Salad Days



When Leader Ruchika Budhraja and her business partner, Sanjay Nangia, decided to launch a salad-based takeout restaurant, they operated under the assumption that people like choices.
And the dynamic duo thinks that children like choices, too.
Budhraja and Nangia are the brains behind the Salad Factory, a new casual dining restaurant slated to open in Southern California this summer.
Similar to how Chipotle offers customers the chance to design their own custom burritos, the Salad Factory will give guests the opportunity to craft their own salads or rice bowls from about 80 fresh and healthy ingredients.
It’s not an entirely new idea; salad chains such as Chop’t and Sweet Green already operate on the East Coast. But Budhraja says such options don’t really exist in the Golden State.
“We think there’s a gap in the market in California,” she says. “I think there’s money to made, but we can make a huge difference too.”
That huge difference is in schools, Budhraja says. With improved school meal nutrition guidelines slated to go into effect in the fall, schools are going to look for ways to provide more fresh produce and whole grains to their students, among other requirements.
The Salad Factory thinks it can help. The company is currently negotiating with a school district in Orange County to provide such healthy foods, be it through salads, wraps or rice bowls, Budhraja says. The company also is conducting taste-tests with students to see which foods they would eat.
“The kids essentially will decide what they like, what they don’t like, and that will determine what does or what doesn’t end up on the menu,” she says.
The Salad Factory would sell the menu items to the school district at-cost to keep prices low. Budhraja says the goal is to provide a healthy-but-fun option for students, even if just once a week, as many cafeterias serve the same menu items every day.
“Just choice in general for kids is kind of a nice thing,” Budhraja says. “I went to public school, and we didn’t really have that much choice. Kids, adults, everybody gets tired of seeing the same thing.”
The Salad Factory also is negotiating with private schools, which do not have to abide by public school regulations but still face a need to provide healthy meals. Because of their nongovernmental status, the company has additional opportunities to serve students, including through lunch delivery or even setting up a shop in the cafeteria, Budhraja says.