At the Evergreens Salad at Sixth and Olive, a stranger once urged me to reconsider my order of a Cobb Your Enthusiasm, sans pickled onions. “They’re so good,” he enthused with more emotion than I’ve ever seen anyone apply to an allium, pickled or no, as we inched down the assembly line toward the dressing carrels. “I don’t want you to miss out.”
The fast-casual chain that generates more lines than the release day for a new Marvel movie has also tapped into a weird truth: Our proclivities and personal preferences run just as deep around salads as cocktails or coffee. These are tough times for Seattle restaurants—mounting costs, rapid-fire closures—but one of the biggest recent success stories comes from two guys with zero previous food experience, who set out to serve nothing but salad (and, later, grain bowl and wrap versions thereof).
When the first Evergreens opened downtown in August 2013, “People would walk in and say, ‘What kind of sandwiches do you have?’” recalls cofounder Hunter Brooks, who resembles Seth Meyers crossed with Michael Phelps in a UW pullover. “A lot of people walked out.” Clearly not that many; in five years, the company grew from one modest counter into a folate-rich phenom with 12 Seattle-area locations, seven more on the way, including Sea-Tac, Kirkland, and even Portland, and no plans to stop anytime soon.
Brooks and his business partner, Todd Fishman, grew up in Bellevue but bonded, and batted around ideas, circa the first Obama term while working corporate jobs in New York City. Brooks, frustrated with the nap-inducing lunch options inherent to office culture, welcomed the wave of healthy fast-casual counters sprouting across Manhattan; the entrepreneurial duo didn’t see anything similar back in Seattle. They quit their jobs. They drew up a business plan and moved home. Hundreds of meetings—and investments from the founders of Mod Pizza and Beecher’s—later, the first Evergreens opened in a former Quiznos at Third and Marion, the only storefront with a landlord willing to risk signing these unproven 28- and 31-year-olds.
These days, a lineup of roughly 10 salads fall along a spectrum from virtuously vegetal to laden with cheese and crunch; they’re constructed by staffers poised to customize your spicy kale Caesar or Santa Fe–style El Sombrero. Evergreens didn’t invent this genre. It did, however, nail the balance of militant efficiency and those moments when convenience shouldn’t override quality.
Before handing over your salad, green-shirted staffers chop it into bite-size morsels. This bit of finesse inserts a few extra minutes between you and the cash register, but also saves you from the brown-tinged sadness of precut romaine.
With every clear plastic bowl, with every punnily named seasonal special—“Where’s Waldorf,” “The Corn Identity”—they also assemble a truth. Our social media selves might lavish likes upon burgers and pizza. Might conscribe salads to that meme of women laughing, alone and inexplicably, into their arugula or iceberg. Our actual selves, however, get through the workday much better with leafy greens and fiber.