Happy + Hale signature salads

BYO Salad: Have it your way

In April 2020, Eat by Lauren Kruchten

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Build-your-own salad concepts are booming, with colorful veggies, warm grains and fake meat trending now.

Blistered roasted red peppers. Bright pink pickled onions. Crunchy pumpkin seeds. Velvety butternut squash hummus. The rainbow of ingredients available at Happy + Hale are just one of the things that make the business’s salads so attractive; another is the option to build your own salad with as many—or as few—of the ingredients as you please for a creation that fits your preferred flavor profile and is mindful of any diet restrictions, food allergies or intolerances. 

Opened in June of 2014 in downtown’s City Plaza, Happy + Hale was one of the first restaurants to offer build-your-own salads in the area. Tyler Helikson, Happy + Hale’s co-founder and CEO, was inspired to launch the concept after visiting similar eateries in Los Angeles and New York City. Helikson saw plenty of people in Raleigh who wanted to eat healthily on the go, but one of the only takeout salad options available at the time was the subpar grocery store salad bar. 

Helikson’s first attempt to fill the hole in Raleigh’s takeout salad market was a juice and salad delivery service, based downtown, which he started in August of 2013 with his friend and Happy + Hale co-owner Matt Whitley. Customers would order off the website and Helikson would deliver their food and drinks to them by golf cart. As the business grew in popularity, the partners opened their first brick-and-mortar space in the heart of Raleigh, followed by locations in North Hills, Durham and Greenville, South Carolina. 

Now, the trend has caught on and the Triangle is full of similar concepts that offer the same health-conscious, customizable salads and bowls, including CAVA, Diced, Chopt and Grabbagreen. Helikson believes the trend is due to a growing group of educated consumers who are more aware of what they’re eating and want access to fresh and healthy foods that will fuel them in a more nutritious way. “As people get more knowledgeable about what they’re putting in their bodies, customization becomes more popular,” Helikson says. “Access, general awareness and how food impacts health makes customizing [more favorable].”

Through the years, Helikson has seen trends come and go within the customizable salad market. One trend that seems here to stay is warm grain bowls, which became popular over the last decade. Helikson says people were drawn to warm bowls because they made them feel fuller than a cold salad of lettuce and uncooked vegetables would. “In order for people to feel they received proper value for a meal, hot food is critical,” says Helikson. In line with the gluten-free fad, grains such as quinoa, rice and farro became popular, along with roasted vegetables such as sweet potatoes, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. The warm bowl trend persists today with an even greater array of cooked grains, proteins and toppings to satiate conscientious customers who crave a hot, healthy meal.

This year, Helikson expects plant-based proteins to reign over the customizable salad scene. Already, we’ve seen the Impossible Burger make its way into fast food joints and restaurants including Burger King, the Cheesecake Factory and Qdoba. Last year, Just Salad did away with all the beef options on its menu, replacing grilled steak with Beyond Beef meatballs. And, last month, Happy + Hale debuted two plant-based menu items—a warm bulgogi bowl also made with Beyond Beef meatballs and a riff on the classic Caesar salad topped with baked buffalo cauliflower. 

Helikson says the bowls were the result of a desire to produce a creative, plant-based and craveable meal that would be filling enough to deliver on value. This, he says, is what more customizable salad concepts will work to achieve in 2020. “Consumers are on the go now and they expect high quality food on-the-go,” Helikson says. “If you’re doing anything less than that, it’s hard to keep up.”

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