I have a confession to make: I can take or leave avocado. Despite what I post on Instagram, I could take or leave most vegetables. Of course, I still fill my diet with leafy greens and earthy roots, but they don’t get me as excited as a bag of chips or a cheeseburger. So, when my legit healthy friends suggest dinner at a vegetarian or – worse – vegan restaurant, I deflate a little inside. Dive bars and burger joints are my jam, and most vegetarian restaurants I’ve reluctantly frequented just aren’t that cool. I’m not alone in this thinking, and the proof in the pudding is the runaway success of by CHLOE—a fast-casual vegan eatery started out of New York, and now with locations in LA, Boston, Providence and soon London.
Curated to perfection by creative director, Samantha Wasser, everything from the interior to the food is designed to be snapped and shared on social. A genius move in tempting naysayers like myself to ditch the grub and get into the right stuff. The plant-based menu is designed to fuel and energize without compromising on flavor, taste or satisfaction, and features comfort classics like burgers, fries and shakes, only wholesome, healthy and sustainable. “Being among the first fast-casual vegan restaurants in the world, our chefs have spent countless hours creating and testing new dishes that are both visually stunning and satisfying for our guests,” Samantha tells us. “We strive to set the standard for all fast-casual dining, not just those who practice a vegan or plant-based lifestyle.”
Samantha’s vision for by CHLOE has never wavered from the moment she realized there was a need and desire for this type of dining, and her steely determination is what drives the brand forward. “Our original intention is the same today as it was when we first opened, with a desire to provide every diner, both vegan and non-vegan, with an approachable fun brand that offers wholesome, plant-based food,” Samantha underlines. “Each one of our locations still reflect our original intentions and we have, and will never, stray from [that].”
I was the Creative Director of ESquared Hospitality, working on new concepts and providing a creative vision for current and upcoming properties. Before by CHLOE., I opened Horchata de Nueva York, a fun Mexican restaurant in Greenwich Village. I handled every detail of that project from design and branding, to even painting the bathrooms. Shortly after, I was approached with a vegan fast-casual concept that I was immediately drawn to and that’s where by CHLOE began. ESquared Hospitality, by CHLOE.’s parent company has been the sole investor in by CHLOE. to date.
I quickly discovered that there was a void in the dining space that offered plant-based dishes made with whole ingredients at an affordable price point. I knew we had an opportunity to really make an impact within the restaurant industry and started developing the brand right then and there. It was almost a two-year process before the first by CHLOE opened its doors.
We are constantly working to create a delicious and innovative menu that is seasonal and unique but also happens to be plant-based. Being among the first fast-casual vegan restaurants in the world, our chefs have spent countless hours creating and testing new dishes that are both visually stunning and satisfying for our guests. We strive to set the standard for all fast-casual dining, not just those who practice a vegan or plant-based lifestyle.
In addition to by CHLOE., I’m working on three new, original concepts including The Sosta with Ali LaRaia and DEZ with Eden Grinshpan.
Two of the most important lessons I’ve learned from opening my first restaurant that I used when launching by Chloe is to ask for help when you need it, and surround yourself with people you can trust and rely on. Now, I can’t be at every photoshoot or see what is going on every day with six locations across three states, so a strong team is a valuable asset too. It’s also very important to be able to look at the big picture and not let minor details distract you from the long-term goal.
Our original intention is the same today as it was when we first opened, with a desire to provide every diner, both vegan and non-vegan, with an approachable and fun brand that offers wholesome, plant-based food. With our strong background in full-service and fine dining restaurants, we wanted to bring full-service sensibilities to a fast-casual setting. Each one of our by CHLOE locations still reflect our original intentions and we have never, and will never, stray from our promise to provide by CHLOE customers with delicious, plant-based food.
THE FIRST FIVE STEPS TO TAKE IF YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT OPENING A RESTAURANT
Step 1: Branding + Design. We worked with the amazing teams at Paperwhite Studio and Dekar Design to create and develop a unique brand, name, overall aesthetic and design that is unique to the restaurant concept and stood out in the hospitality industry.
Step 2: Identify your social media identity and goals. I manage the by CHLOE. Instagram personally and have since we first announced the brand in February 2015. It has become a huge part of our brand and something I am really proud of. Social media has also been an invaluable tool to not only help the brand grow, but to allow us to interact and engage with our customers and connect with those who may not (yet!) have had an opportunity to eat at by CHLOE. where they live. I made a point to design almost every detail of the restaurant with the intention that it would look beautiful in photos. From the banquet textile to our lights and table surfaces, to the way the food looks when it is served, we wanted to make sure every single photo in the space would be Instagram-worthy.
Step 3: Finalize a menu. This took months and months of recipe testing, tastings, feedback and going back to the drawing board to not only finalize our signature menu, but to perfect those core menu items like our burger patties, beet ketchup and more.
Step 4: Find a location. A restaurant concept is only worth so much until you have a great place to put it. Now, we listen to our customers and are constantly looking to bring by CHLOE. to new locations. We spend a lot of time exploring new neighborhoods and cities to identify the perfect spot for a by CHLOE. And finding a space is a lot harder than most people think. We want to make sure it’s an easily accessible location ideally with foot traffic. You can always plan for the right time to open, but a lot of times construction decides for you.
Step 5: Hire and train your staff. We would be nothing without the amazing front and back of house staff that make our by CHLOE locations run around the country. The dedication and energy that our employees have is infectious. We’ve been lucky to find great people that help to bring the by CHLOE. brand to life every single day.
There are always little things you wish you could go back and do differently but these are the core steps for making your idea a reality.
ON THEIR GROWING PAINS
With so many new locations in the pipeline, it is hard to spend an equal amount of time at every by CHLOE location. Having spent so much time and energy building out each of the brand’s six locations, I’m personally attached to them all and they each have their personal quirks that I love. It’s challenging finding the perfect balance managing them all – especially when two of them are in different states.
We’ve faced a few obstacles that forced us to really take stock of the people in our company as we positioned ourselves to continue growing at the pace we want to. I’ve learned that even during the hardest of times, as a founder you have to be the person moving forward, focusing on the best interest of the brand, employees and your customers.
ON BALANCING WORKING ‘IN’ THE BUSINESS VERSUS WORKING ‘ON’ IT
It’s a balance I’ve worked hard to find. I’m a stickler for details and I’ve had to teach myself to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. You have to remember that as a boss, you will always notice the smallest details that others may not and it’s ok, so long as you don’t let those details drive you crazy. I still spend my days bouncing around the different locations in New York, and spend a significant amount of time in a new city when we open a new location. The focus these last few months has definitely been splitting my time between our current locations, and planning for expansion. It’s an exciting balance to have to worry about.
WHY YOU NEED TO THINK LONG TERM WITH YOUR BUSINESS NAME
I wanted to create one that could grow and expand with the brand and emphasize different aspects. Sweets by CHLOE. is a great example of how we were able to keep the core brand, but still create a unique bakery concept that could stand on its own. We have a wonderful partnership with Devocion coffee that makes a custom blend for us that we serve and sell as Coffee by CHLOE. We did the same with Chill by CHLOE, our dairy-free, vegan ice cream that we’ve been able to grow. The possibilities are endless.
THE HIGH MOMENTS & THE ONE THING SHE’S STILL WORKING ON
I’m excited to see how quickly, and successfully, the brand has grown. We’re opening our second Boston location in June and look forward to opening two more NYC locations in Rockefeller Center and the South Street Seaport.
I have had some amazing opportunities to speak on panels and at different events over the years, whether its SXSW, WWD, Samsung. Talking about myself and my work to a group of people coming to hear me speak was really difficult at first. Over the years, I’m still working on becoming more comfortable but I’m definitely enjoying the speaking opportunities more than I used to.
THE ADVICE SHE WOULD HAVE GIVEN HERSELF AT THE START OF THIS JOURNEY
Fear can be a good thing. I’ve learned, if you have fear, it means you’re doing something right because you are taking a risk, and have everything to gain. Trust your gut. It’s cliché but has been steadfast for me. When I was opening Horchata and by CHLOE, my gut was my road map. Even at times when I’d spend weeks second guessing a choice, I always ended up coming back to my initial decision. I’d also remind myself that things will get easier. Our 6th location is much easier than our first, because we know things now – quirks, and rhythms that help to make an opening more seamless. Experience is your best asset.