Q&A: Stephane Raveneaux, corporate chef Salata, Houston

Salata, a restaurant chain that draws its name from the Latin origin of the word "salad", was created seven years ago in one of downtown Houston's tunnel locations. The concept is simple yet relevant due to the country's focus on healthier fare.

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Salata-Dining-RoomSalata’s front of house ranges from 60 to 80 seats.Basically a next-generation, full-service salad bar, the restaurant provides customers with the opportunity to create custom, tossed-to-order salads and wraps from a variety of toppings. Owner/franchisor Berge Simonian noticed an increased interest in salads early in 2003 at the downtown Houston tunnel restaurant that he had owned and operated since 1994.

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Simonian joined forces with brother-in-law and business partner Tony Kyoumijian, first creating Salata salad dressings, sauces and soups, and then opening the first Salata site in October 2005. "When the company started to grow, Salata expanded to Houston's suburbs," says Stephane Raveneaux, corporate chef. "The first location was in the Energy Corridor in Katy, the next was in Spring, and then a site opened north in The Woodlands. In early 2010, we opened a restaurant in Houston Center. Last year, we opened another Salata in Cross Roads. We now have five locations in the suburbs and four in the Houston tunnels."

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As a result of its expansion, the chain has been on an upward climb. Sales increased close to 70 percent between 2010 and 2011, while volume rose almost 45 percent, according to Technomic.

In terms of size, the restaurants range between 60 to 80 seats, depending on the location, with Houston sites open during lunch hours only. Suburban Salata locations operate from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

FE&S spoke with Raveneaux about Salata's menu offerings, equipment requirements and the unique challenges in the salad restaurant segment.

FE&S: Describe Salata's menu.

SR: We offer four types of salads that include fresh ingredients, with a choice of 50 different toppings that are made daily. Lettuce varieties include a combination of spring red and green cabbage and romaine; a spring mix with baby greens; romaine; and spinach. We prepare 10 homemade dressings in our commissary that include traditional varieties like buttermilk ranch and classic Caesar as well as more unique flavors, such as ginger lime, chipotle ranch and fat-free mango. Customers can pick from five types of chicken, including grilled, pesto, chipotle, buffalo and Asian barbecue. There also is salmon, marinated shrimp, regular shrimp, crab meat, seafood mix and tuna. Some locations offer tofu.

FE&S: What are the most popular salad toppings?

SR: The most popular toppings are tomatoes, cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, cranberries, eggs, parmesan cheese and strawberries. Our customers choose toppings from behind glass, and we have four people simultaneously working the line, constructing the salads.

FE&S: Do you offer other items aside from salad?

SR: The menu includes three types of soup, including tomato basil, broccoli and tortilla. We also have chipotle, whole wheat and pesto bread as well as pita chips. Dessert is limited to three types of cookies, in addition to brownies.

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