Tender Greens to Put Down More Roots in San Diego Area

Lou Hirsh, 14 May 2012, San Diego Business Journal

Operators of the health-focused restaurant chain Tender Greens are looking to expand the brand’s presence in San Diego, after getting a taste of success with their first local restaurant in Point Loma.

TYP Restaurant Group Inc. of Culver City, which debuted the concept at Liberty Station in 2008, next plans to open this summer at Westfield UTC, in the University Towne Center neighborhood. It is finalizing arrangements for an early 2013 opening in downtown San Diego, in the area around Broadway and First Avenue, according to Pete Balistreri, co-owner and executive chef at the Point Loma eatery.

Balistreri said the chef-driven concept aims to be a fast-casual version of a high-end restaurant, with individual items priced at $11 or less. The menu emphasizes salads, soups and sandwiches, made with locally and regionally sourced produce, meats and other ingredients.

Local Beers

“We locally source everything when we can,” Balistreri said. “Our beer is all from craft brewers in San Diego.”

Tender Greens’ suppliers include four San Diego County agricultural growers, as well as local seafood vendors, all of which also supply the region’s top high-end restaurants, he said.

The privately held TYP, which does not disclose revenue figures, first opened Tender Greens in 2006 in Culver City and has since added six more locations, mostly in Southern California. In addition to the two coming San Diego openings, it will debut this fall at Irvine Spectrum and is planning to have a total of 30 operating by 2016, including sites in the Denver and Seattle markets.

Balistreri said the company currently employs about 50 locally, which will expand to 150 with the debut of the downtown restaurant next year.

Two of the company’s co-founders – Erik Oberholtzer and Matt Lyman, who started Tender Greens with David Dressler – are themselves veteran chefs. Most locations, including those in San Diego, are co-owned by career chefs with backgrounds in fine dining.

For instance, San Diego native Balistreri, 29, has worked at several high-end restaurants in San Francisco and Santa Monica, most recently serving as banquet chef at The Lodge at Torrey Pines.

The 3,500-square-foot UTC location of Tender Greens, expected to open by July, will be led by his younger cousin, executive chef Peter Balistreri, who has trained as a sous chef under his more experienced relative.

The Westfield Group mall, which is currently in the midst of a $180 million renovation set for completion next year, will get at least one other fast-rising chain competing for the hearts of health-oriented diners.

475 Is the Magic Number

Florida-based Darden Restaurants Inc. plans to open its first local location of Seasons 52, an upscale fresh-grill and wine bar restaurant, in spring 2013 at Westfield UTC. The full-service concept features a meat and seafood menu that changes four times a year, and no items have more than 475 calories, according to Darden.

Darren Tristano, executive vice president of restaurant industry consulting firm Technomic Inc., said the growth of concepts like Tender Greens and Seasons 52 represent successful efforts to appeal to an upscale demographic that has held up well for industry sales, even during the recession.

However, he noted it does take a certain level of “culinary expertise” to make healthy items palatable to a large audience, and the upscale chains are catering to those willing to pay more for higher-quality meals that fit their dietary priorities.

While overall restaurant industry revenue rose 2.5 percent in 2011, the fast-casual category – which also includes players such as Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill – grew 3.1 percent, according to Technomic.

After nearly three years of sales contraction, the U.S. restaurant industry is now in a slow growth mode and is on track to see sales rise 3 percent in 2012 compared with a year ago, the research firm predicts.

Copyright San Diego Business Journal May 14, 2012

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