A Salad a Day for a Healthy Life

Interview with Dan Isai, CEO Salad Box and ambassador of Jamie Oliver in Romania

 Publish date: 10 January 2017

 In mid-February, Salad Box opened a new restaurant in the middle of Bucharest, on the French street. Staying faithful to the same healthy, fast and delicious menu, the tenth restaurant opened in Bucharest also illustrates a new concept of minimalistic, fresh and welcoming design.
The employees, with nametags that say “Salad Artists”, season each order with a wide smile. This is the company policy: service quality should match the quality of the products served.
Salad Box, the company created four years ago by Dan Isai, Radu Lupas, Daniel Lar and Vlad Lupas, is the third largest fast-food restaurant chain in Romania, after McDonald’s and KFC. The first restaurant was opened in Cluj-Napoca, and since 2013 Salad Box has developed a franchise system based on clear procedures and a scalable business model, which allowed a rapid expansion of the business at a national and an international level.
Today, Salad Box has 37 restaurants (34 in Romania, three in Germany and Hungary) and over 500 employees. The company’s turnover in 2015 was 14 million euros.
ImageSalad Box communication - from the beginnings to the present
Since the first day of activity we made a statement through our products, we communicated the transition of salad from a side dish to the main course. Marketing on the other hand, especially in the first years, was kept to a minimum. At the beginning, our strategy was to occupy the main locations in the country without trying to be in the spotlight, but rather concentrating on developing the concept and on the quality of the products and services.
Over the years, I realized that Salad Box is not just a product or a location, it leaves and should leave a mark on the community. Using the values of this brand as a starting point, it is possible to develop a direction in terms of diet and lifestyle in Romania. That is why our investments are long-term investments, and the most beloved and powerful of our campaigns are those that target the children. The fact that we invest in children is priceless. I am also an ambassador of Jamie Oliver in Romania, and I would like, both through this “position” and through our company, to take care of the future generation. To steer them in the right, healthy, direction, in terms of diet and lifestyle.
It is our duty to return and to invest in the society certain resources (money, time), but not anyhow. However, if the reason is only to create a good image for the company, we might as well drop it. I don’t believe in people and companies that invest in CRS campaigns simply because they are necessary. We invest a lot in this direction, but, in most cases, we don’t want to make it public. We prefer to occupy most of our time with actions and not with talking.
In the past few years we have had a very large quantitative growth in a short time. I believe that this way we could soon become market leaders on the Romanian food market (number of locations). However, we want to have an increase in quality more than an increase in quantity. Here I’m talking about location design, products, services and the customer experience in our restaurants. With the recent rebranding, we can have an even more solid base and a greater impact in the community. The new tagline, “Food is life. Make it good” and the new brand values make us achieve even more.

One of the youngest and most successful Romanian entrepreneurs
ImageLast year I was honored to receive from Ernst & Young the title of “Emerging Entrepreneur Of The Year“. Indeed, life can be bring advantages when you run the operations of a brand targeting mainly a young audience. Each period in life has its own strengths. When you are young you have a lot of energy, ambition and will to succeed, on the other hand you are inexperienced.
The fact that both my partners (editor’s note: Radu Lupas, Daniel Lar and Vlad Lupas) and I are part of our customers’ generation is an important asset, because it is easier to anticipate their desires and needs. The smaller the age gap is, the faster and more genuine the connection. The assumptions and suppositions regarding our customers’ needs are replaced by our own experience and vision.
Social media – the key channel for a direct communication with our customers
80% of our customers are people aged between 20 and 35, who work in corporations, in particular in the IT industry. These are the people who use the Internet on a daily basis and most of them are active on social media. This is a very important communication channel for us, as an indicator of the Salad Box image, through which any information reaches rapidly to and from our customers.
Clear and tested procedures for employee training
Many of the good ideas we have put into practice came from the employees. A large number of our employees came from Salad Box customers, which is definitely a plus from us. All the procedures implemented in the franchises were tested initially in our own restaurants, which are in strategic geographic locations in Romania, in order to have a real feedback in terms of their nationwide applicability.
ImageDifferent communication approaches on the other European markets
Salad Box operations have currently expanded in two other European countries: Germany and Hungary. However, there are positive signals regarding an expansion beyond the borders of Europe.
The two countries where we have expanded so far have provided us with interesting experiences, we have adapted our communication messages to be closely connected with the specificity of the population we are addressing. We need to take into account the culture, the level of culinary education, age, religion, purchase power etc. We chose to keep the principles and values we have regardless of the market on which we operate. However, the objectives, the strategies through which we reach these objectives, the communication and the products need to be adapted.
In the franchise system we have created the presence of procedures is vital. But, besides communication procedures and paths, it is important to offer flexibility and to adapt to the region our employees are from. There are differences in approach from area to area for certain procedures. On the other hand, there are elements, in particular related to the company’s values and principles, that we wish to keep, regardless of region, employees, customer etc.
We cannot ensure this adaptation to the local market by ourselves, only with the help of the local partner. Since we are a business that sells franchises, the most important and the most hard to find for us is the right partner, because he represents our image on that territory. Each partner becomes our brand ambassador.
Ana Morodan