- Tender Greens, a hugely popular West Coast lunch spot known for its salads, has opened its first East Coast location in NYC.
- It could be a huge threat to Sweetgreen, another wildly popular salad chain with firm roots in eastern US cities.
- We compared the two, and Tender Greens’ quality and preparation easily outshine the competition’s.
The upscale side of to-go, fast-casual salads is dominated by two giants: Sweetgreen and Tender Greens.
Both chains began within a year of each other – Sweetgreen in 2007, Tender Greens in 2006. And both chains have received funding from some big names – Sweetgreen landed two rounds of funding from a venture capital fund founded by AOL co-founder and chairman Steve Case, and Tender Greens managed to grab the attention of Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer.
But while Washington, DC-based Sweetgreen has bloomed into a major bi-coastal player in urban markets, Tender Greens has stayed on the West Coast. That is, until now.
Tender Greens’ first East Coast incursion has opened in NYC, with two locations in Boston planned to open soon – and many West Coast transplants were excited. Business Insider’s Melia Robinson reviewed the chain and was blown away by the experience.
But does the chain have the chops to take on East Coast salad darling Sweetgreen?
Tender Greens serves so much more than just salads, which already means its menu has an advantage over the salad-centric Sweetgreen. We decided to compare the most similar salads from the chains: a southwestern themed salad with roast chicken.
But first, let’s take a quick foray to Tender Greens itself. The new location is on Broadway and 20th, in the Flatiron district. Lots of salad chains are nearby — it’s a bold place for Tender Greens to take its first steps in NYC.
The inside is sprawling and cavernous — yet it doesn’t feel cold or industrial in any way. In fact, it feels cozier than a lot of sit-down restaurants. There’s ample seating — stools, booths, and a counter overlooking the open kitchen.
The decor is warm and simple, with greenery scattered about. It definitely gives off a chill and friendly West Coast vibe.
The mobile order system — a pride of Sweetgreen’s, as well — is fantastically easy to use. The pick-up area is large, and there’s plenty of staff to help you if you can’t find your order.
Back to the salads at hand. Here’s Sweetgreen’s southwestern style salad, the Guacamole Greens.
It’s comprised of mesclun greens, big chunks of avocado, roasted chicken, onion, tomatoes, tortilla chips, a lime wedge, and a lime jalapeño vinaigrette.
The mesclun mix is rather standard salad fare; a step above romaine, two steps above iceberg. The vinaigrette is bright and acidic, with heavy notes of lime that really puts forward the southwestern affectation.
And more importantly, there’s enough dressing to adequately cover the whole salad.
The chicken is rather humdrum. There’s no real proof that it’s roasted — it tastes and feels nearly the same as, say, canned chicken. Not that it is canned, but it’s just awfully boring and falls flat within the salad.
The copious amount of avocado is a welcome relief from countless chains that are stingy with the buttery, savoury fruit. The small, deep bowl the salad comes in makes mixing up the salad a difficult task — avocado chunks often jump ship while you’re mixing.
Now for Tender Greens’ chipotle barbecue chicken salad. For starts, it’s a gorgeous looking salad.
It’s a similar construction to Sweetgreen’s: romaine hearts, avocado, cotija cheese, tortilla strips, green onion, radish slices, and cilantro lime dressing. But the difference in quality is astounding.
The lettuce is crisp, vibrant, and fresh — Sweetgreen’s feels packaged by comparison. The tortilla chips are thoughtfully scattered throughout, as opposed to being dumped in a pile like the salad before.
The chicken comes in big strips — and it’s delicious. It’s flavorful, tender, and the charred and tasty skin is left on, which leaves little question as to the meat’s origins.
The dressing is light, though not as bright or lime-forward as Sweetgreen’s. Also, the amount is pretty small, meaning coverage of the whole salad — and it’s a big salad — is difficult.
The salad feels homemade — and I know that sounds corny. Of course it’s not homemade, it’s prepared in a kitchen at a business. But the quality and care provided in the preparation really does show through in the food itself.
Tender Greens easily exceeded our expectations — and if the chain is serious about its East Coast expansion, Sweetgreen should be pretty worried.
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