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Chain Innovators: UFood Grill

When a chain restaurant with a healthy concept seeks out non-traditional locations, the result is a win-win. At least this is the case with Newton, Mass.-based UFood Grill, which has four company-owned locations and four franchised sites.

UfoodThe operation has been in business just six-and-a-half years, but has some heft behind it. Boston Market founder George Nadoff created the concept and currently serves as UFood Grill's CEO and chairman.

The chain has found success in its non-traditional outlets, which include two locations in Boston's Logan Airport, one site each in the Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport and Ohio's Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, along with an operation in a Ft. Myers, Fla. Omni Club fitness facility. Most recently, UFood Grill partnered with the U.S. military, forming an alliance focusing on food, health and wellness.

"We were invited to Dallas and met with Air Force and Army commanders, including generals and admirals, to discuss our food," Nadoff says. "They asked us to create locations in three Aberdeen, Md., military units."

Along with a thriving location at Dallas' Parkland Memorial Hospital, there will soon be two UFood Grill locations in Salt Lake City International Airport. "We currently have 22 applications for airport sites," Nadoff says.

Under a recently signed major licensing agreement, UFood Grill will be a part of Hudson News, an airport newsstand, in 10 East Coast airports. "These are dramatic developments for a young startup like us," Nadoff says.

When other chains were just beginning to talk about adding healthier selections to menus, UFood Grill was creating more nutritious items from every day food. Its focus on healthier ingredients and preparation has given this chain an edge. UFood Grill's menu centers around its lean bison burger, which is served on a whole wheat bun alongside "unfries."

"We don't have a fryer in our stores, so our fries are baked," Nadoff says. "We only steam, bake and grill."

Nadoff's goal is to make the chain's healthier fare more accessible by installing a UFood Grill in every college, casino and airport in the country.

"I'm 81 years old and people ask why I'm still in this business," Nadoff says. "I'm having the most fun I've ever had in my life!"

Fast Facts

  • Year founded: 2003
  • Headquarters: Newton, Mass.
  • Menu specialties: Better-for-You Comfort Food
  • Service model: Fast-casual
  • Units: 8
  • 2010 sales: $ 4.5 Million
  • Key expansion markets: Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida and Puerto Rico
  • Typical location: Downtown or urban metro areas, or non-traditional locations (e.g. airports, hospitals, military bases, health clubs)
  • Average unit size: 1,200–2,500 sq. ft.
  • Average kitchen space: 900 sq. ft.
  • Average check: $7.55
  • Total unit cost: $350,000–$600,000
  • Total equipment investment per unit: $135,000 (hoodless version $108,000)

Key Players

  • Sr. Vice President of Operations: Thomas Mackey
  • Smallwares & Equipment Distributor: Sysco
  • Food Distributor: Sysco
  • Architect and Design: Judd Brown Designs, Inc. (JBD)
  • Other Key Consultant: May Food Services
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