In December 2009, Allan McMurrain and his partners embarked on a venture friends and colleagues collectively loved but questioned.
The venture was Coolgreens and the question was whether enough people would choose fast, casual and healthy over the drive-thru culture they were conditioned to make a part of their lives.
The answer has been a resounding yes.
In barely two years, the Coolgreens has expanded from the original location in Nichols Hills Shopping Center to five locations from Norman to the newest location in Edmond, 1189 E 15 St., with plans to expand to Tulsa this year and beyond Oklahoma's borders in 2013.
The newest store in Spring Creek Plaza is clear indication the concept has hit its stride. It's the model of efficiency front and back. Patrons enter and take a left through a series of corridors that wrap around the back of the store, ensuring no one will be crowded and lines out the door would be practically impossible. In back, pizza and yogurt are prepared in their own rooms to ease kitchen traffic and maintain workflow efficiency.
These productivity measures have been installed without disturbing the integrity of the chef-driven menu. You won't find french fries, tater tots, a deep-fryer or soda pop dispenser. What you will find is a ton of flavor wrapped in a tortilla, bursting from salad, brewing in hot soups, on top of flatbread pizza and or mixed into tart yogurt.
“There's a misconception that healthy doesn't taste good,” McMurrain said. “But that's just not true. I think our growth is a pretty good indicator.”
The menu is driven by chef Trey Ferguson, a graduate of the Coach House apprentice program, who works out of a commissary kitchen where some of the foods are prepared and transported to the five stores. Stores prepare salads, yogurt and pizza to order. Ferguson oversees quality control from the commissary and develops new menu items.
The next challenge is to expand into Tulsa and maintain quality and distribution, which is the goal for this year.
“We're exploring Tulsa right now and plan to start opening stores in 2012,” McMurrain said. “We'd like to have three to four stores open there by the end of 2013.
McMurrain said Coolgreens will open at least one more store in the Oklahoma City market this year as they look beyond Oklahoma's borders.
“By the end of 2013, we'd like to be in a third and possibly fourth market,” McMurrain said.
Texas appears to be the next logical step, I'd put my money on Austin — if I could find someone legally booking wagers on such propositions.
For more information about the menu at Coolgreens, go online to www.coolgreens.com.