We are telling the stories behind some of the foods and drinks guests can enjoy inflight, highlighting companies whose sustainable business practices help Alaska “Fly Greener.” These businesses also offer unique experiences in West Coast destinations we love to visit. Today, we are featuring Evergreens, a made-to-order salads company headquartered in Seattle with 26 locations in Washington and Oregon. Evergreens’ Beets So Fly salad is available for purchase on Alaska Airlines’ coast-to-coast and Hawaii flights through March 15.
Photography by Ingrid Barrentine
The team of six started early this morning in downtown Seattle, steaming quinoa and brown rice, slicing cucumbers and tomatoes, and chopping the five types of greens that anchor Evergreens’ salads, grain bowls and wraps. A rainbow of fresh and house-pickled produce sparkles across the tidy grid of the salad bar.
The lunch rush is a short hour away, and locals and visitors alike will soon line up at this location of Seattle’s homegrown chain around the corner from Pike Place Market. But first, there are dozens of online preorders to fill. The team dashes along the counter – tongs and scoops dancing between fixings and the clear compostable serving bowls that have been Evergreens’ signature from its start in 2013.
“All hands on deck!” calls out general manager Ricardo Salinas, sporting a T-shirt that says “Romainager,” as he starts a line of 70-plus El Sombrero salads topped with avocado, black beans, fire-roasted corn, jalapeños and Beecher’s cheese – the runaway favorite among 2.5 million bowls served in 2019.
Since the made-to-order salad chain launched six years ago, Evergreens has grown to 26 restaurants in Washington and Oregon. The first airport location arrived at Sea-Tac last year and was an instant hit with flyers, dishing up four times as many bowls as a typical urban location. Travelers in the know place their orders on the Evergreens app, where they can set a pick-up time for their salads and avoid standing in line. At Portland International Airport, Evergreens is coming to the expanded Concourse E in late spring.
And now health-minded Alaska Airlines guests also can enjoy Evergreens’ Beets So Fly salad on coast-to-coast and Hawaii flights through March 15. Beets So Fly features romaine and mixed greens, pickled beets, pickled red onions, cucumbers, walnuts, feta and black pepper with Dijon balsamic dressing and is served with roasted chicken. “It’s a really colorful salad that offers great flavors for the inflight experience,” says Tom Small, Evergreens’ chief operating officer and head of the culinary-development team.
Small, who was a chef in fine-dining restaurants for many years, says his team draws on the experience of crafting high-end cuisine to create Evergreens’ flavor combinations. In addition to four core salads, the menu features five seasonal bowls that change twice a year, and a unique salad is highlighted each month.
To kick off 2020, the Evergreens team has packed January’s Dance Dance Resolution bowl with romaine, spinach, roasted carrots, red bell peppers, green onions, toasted almonds, apricots, garbanzos and veggie chips with a Greek yogurt dressing. “We added simple layers of flavor along the way to add interest without adding a lot of calories,” Small says. “The garbanzo beans are marinated with Middle Eastern spices and the dried apricots are poached in chai tea. Both add exotic flavors.”
This fall, Small took a break from taste-testing dressings and menu planning at Evergreens’ central commissary kitchen to reflect on the company’s ingredients for success and sustainability efforts – and to share how salads like Cobb Your Enthusiasm get their names.
Q&A with Tom Small, Evergreens’ chief operating officer and head of the culinary-development team:
What makes Evergreens stand out among the fast lunch options available in metropolitan Seattle and Portland?
Tom Small: “We’re focused on super freshness. We go through a ton of produce, and we’re really focused on getting food in and out as quick as possible. We also do a lot of transparency around nutritional information. On our website, you can see a full list of every ingredient and every salad and full nutritional labels. You know what you get.
“And we tend to be more lighthearted and fun. Our teams are super dynamic, and we’re super fast. We time the experience from when a guest comes into when they finish at the register, and our fastest stores are able to do that in less than two minutes.”
About a quarter of Evergreens guests preorder online – an option for all locations, including Sea-Tac. Do you have any tips for online orders?
Small: “We don’t mix the ingredients into the salad for online orders. That’s for transparency so when the guest gets the order, they know they got everything before they mix it up. We wish more people knew that on the online ordering form there’s a button to tell us to put your salad in a big bowl for easier mixing. Then, we’ll make a 32-ounce salad in a 48-ounce bowl, which gives two extra inches of headspace so it’s super easy to mix.”
What are some of the ways Evergreens has incorporated eco-friendly practices into its business?
Small: “In the stores, almost 100 percent of the items that you get from us are compostable. That’s bowls and beverage cups – even soup cups, lids and utensils. Everything can go straight into compost. We use compostable plastics that are corn-based and have from the beginning. There was recently some news about compostable fiber bowls used by some restaurants that have chemicals and additives that might be a concern. We don’t use those at all.
“We’ve also been working with EnviroStars [an organization that recognizes businesses’ environmental commitment]. We have the highest rating for our locations, and that has to do with energy output, the use of LED light bulbs and water efficiency.”
How did you come up with the Beets So Fly salad for the Alaska inflight menu?
Small: “Last year in the fall and winter we had a salad called Beets by Evergreens – like the headphones Beats by Dre. It was such a popular salad that it’s one of only a few we’ve brought back. That salad in particular looks really great. It also has a big flavor. This is a style we thought was going to carry through to the inflight experience really well.”
How does your team’s fine-dining background influence the salads you create?
Small: “It’s ingredients, it’s technique, it’s color, it’s flavor balance and there’s some trend to it. Seasonality plays a huge part.
“The progression of our Asian salads is a good illustration. The first Asian-inspired salad we launched was called the Rice Rice Baby. It was the classic Chinese chicken salad, with a very familiar teriyaki sauce. And then a couple of years ago, Thai food was really popular, and we ran a couple of different Thai salads. Last year, Korean food came on-trend, so we had a Korean salad called Lil’ Kimchi.
“Now, as we move into the new season, we’re going in a Japanese direction. I Pity the Tofu is a salad that has pickled ginger. It’s basically a California roll in the form of a salad. That’s the kind of flavor progression that we do.”
What’s your personal go-to salad?
Small: “Planet of the Apricots is my favorite right now. It brings some different flavors and textures with the roasted Brussels sprouts and feels super seasonal. But there have been so many that I’ve liked. A summer and a half ago we had the Evergreens Barbeque Salad. We had house-made pickles and barbecue sauce and smoky Southern spices. It was jokingly called a dude salad because of the heavier, bigger flavors. It was fun that we could do a vegetarian salad that felt so much like an outdoor barbecue.”
How do you come up with the salad names?
Small: “The team has so much fun with the names. It’s a companywide competition and we solicit names from all 475 employees. We share photos of the salads and we’ll get 50 or 60 fun names to choose from.”
Was there a salad name ever suggested by guests?
Small: “There was! It’s Hard Out Here for a Shrimp.”
How does the mission of healthy living influence the work culture at Evergreens?
Small: “I’ve actually lost 75 pounds since I’ve started at Evergreens. Not just from eating salad, obviously; I worked on it as well. We talk with our internal team a lot about ‘Living the brand.’ We give our team members $40 a month to do something that’s on-brand: buy a pair of shoes, buy a gym membership, take yoga classes. It’s all about having a healthy lifestyle and work-life balance.”
How to visit:
Find Evergreens menus, online ordering and directions to locations around metropolitan Seattle and Portland, Oregon, at evergreens.com.