MAD Greens opens a new store in Centennial today, plans growth beyond Colorado

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The popularity of salad restaurants rises and falls as quickly as health and diet fads in this country. One year will see a proliferation of salad-bar eateries with lines of calorie-conscious customers waiting to fill plates from crocks chilling under a sneeze guard, but come back in a few years and that healthful feed trough will have been replaced by a fast-casual burger joint with bacon in everything but the soft drinks. Despite trends, MAD Greens has managed to carve out a niche along the Front Range, slowly expanding its offering of designed and build-your-own salads to twelve restaurants in Denver, Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins. And according to Marley Hodgson, co-founder of the all-Colorado chain, the goals for the company include more stores in our state and beyond. With today's opening of a new location at 7300 East Arapahoe Road in Centennial, a fresh infusion of money from the Coors Family Foundation, and a new design theme, MAD Greens hopes to take its brand of fresh and wholesome fare beyond this market to a regional and eventually national audience.

See also: Mad Greens is mad about Haystack Mountain goat cheese

By the time Coors purchased a majority in the fast-casual salad chain, Hodgson and partner Dan Long had already set their sights on expansion but lacked the capital to launch their vision. The acquisition by newly formed Coors subsidiary AC Restaurant Group gave MAD Greens the infusion it needed to carry out the plan. Darden Coors (whose food service resume includes legal counsel for the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, of bagel fame) is now CEO of the chain, but Hodgson says that he, Long and the rest of the management staff are still fully focused on managing and expanding the business.

"Working with the Coors family has been great," says Hodgson, adding that the family's roots in Colorado and dedication to Colorado businesses mean they share his goals. "They give us the resources necessary to fully fund and complete our growth plan."

The Centennial store features a new design theme and customer experience, courtesy of Xan Creative's Melissa Friday, whose track record includes Snooze, Los Chingones Ace and Illegal Pete's. "We wanted to emphasize our farm-fresh and local approach," explains Hodgson, "with a softer look, including wood floors."

Existing stores are also receiving the upgrade, which includes a new ordering process meant to streamline the system and deliver food to the customer faster. This includes digital menu boards that can be updated quickly and expediters with tablets who can send orders to the kitchen before the customer reaches the check-out register. Customers will still be able to talk to "salad artists," as Hodgson calls them, for customized salad orders, though.

Other changes include moving the panini station to the back of the house so that sandwich makers don't have their backs to customers.

Even as it changes its look here, MAD Greens is looking beyond Colorado. Hodgson says the company is currently shopping for out-of-state locations, but the timing of any expansion is still under wraps. But when they open, he adds, each new location "will have components of each region," highlighted with locally themed menu items while still maintaining a Colorado presence "to give credibility to the brand."

MAD Greens already features a range of Colorado products, including produce grown on a partner farm run by Agriburbia in Golden, cheese from Haystack Mountain, Bing energy drinks, and nuts from Olomomo in Boulder -- sold in packs and also featured in MAD's Olomomo salad. Hodgson plans to also "take products from Colorado that travel well," while contracting with local growers in the regions where the new stores are built. "For me," he says, "it's exciting because we know how things are grown."

The newest location will open at 10:30 a.m. today and will be open daily until 8:30 p.m.

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