The Unexpected Path to a Fresh Start

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John Bornoty

You’ve heard the story a hundred times before; a little local restaurant decides to go big and franchise their concept. This isn’t that story.

This story begins with “If you’d told me ten years ago I’d be doing this, I’d have said you were nuts.”

John Bornoty sold his successful tech business and was in New York looking at another business opportunity when he stopped for lunch at a little deli in Manhattan. He noticed that the small salad bar in the corner of the deli was very busy. He started thinking about how hard it is to find a good salad. What if he built a restaurant around a fast fresh and casual concept? What if you could have a salad made for you – to your exact specifications – without the obvious drawbacks of the traditional salad bar setup? Rather than buy the business he’d come to New York to see, Bornoty took that lunchtime inspiration and started his own fast, casual food franchise.

Bornoty wasn’t afraid to reform the traditional model of a food franchise. First of all, he didn’t hire a chef – despite the fact that he had no restaurant experience himself. Instead, he did his own research, “I’d go to big cafeterias and see what people were eating.” He tried the top selling salads “everywhere from coffee shops to steak houses.” Then he created and tested his own recipes and sourced the freshest ingredients. The Big Salad currently offers eleven signature entree salads – or customers can ‘build their own’ salad and choose from an extensive selection of toppings and dressings. The Big Salad also serves up a variety of soups plus healthy and unique sandwiches. Everything is made to order. When asked if he had a favorite, Bornoty said, “I don’t have a favorite. I like them all. I created them all.”

He put together focus groups to help him define the perfect fast casual dining experience – from the food to the décor to the menu. Bornoty is passionate about quality and consistency.

“There’s a learning curve.  People aren’t used to a $10 salad, but then again, people are not used to salads that are as fresh or as “BIG” as ours.  but we will never sacrifice quality to have a lesser price point.  It takes people a few times dining with us before they really get it.  They’ll have a salad here, and then go somewhere else and it’s not as good.  They finally realize there are cheaper salads but nothing compares to our quality, size or abundance of choices.”

Bornoty put his tech background to good use designing processes that are easy to monitor and simple for franchisees to use. Even the management style is unique. No offices are allowed. Franchise owners and managers do their work in the dining room where the customers sit. Bornoty explains, “As you do your work, you see what the customer sees and experience what the customer experiences. That makes a difference.  Too many business owners run their business from the owner’s point of view when, in fact, they should be running it from the customer’s point of view.  What better way to give true customer service than to actually be the customer.”

Continuing his non-traditional approach, Bornoty prefers to hire people with no restaurant background. He explains, “The franchisee who owns our Royal Oak location was in marketing – he’s a people guy. We prefer people without food experience.” Even more surprising – there’s no cooking to do at his restaurants. Fresh ingredients are delivered daily, and the staff prepares the salads and sandwiches to order, but there is no grill, no oven, not even a microwave.

The first location opened in 2008 and there are now three successful locations in Michigan, with a fourth opening in the spring. Bornoty is ready to expand throughout Michigan and plans to open 200 nationwide locations in the next ten years – all because he trusted his instincts and his abilities.

There’s a quote on the company web site that says it all…

“Of course I was pleased that The Big Salad concept was a success,” says Bornoty. “But I also discovered that I was meant to do this.”

To learn more about The Big Salad visit

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