SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls Finds a Home in Hermitage

HERMITAGE, Pa. – The new Saladworks/Frutta Bowls fast-casual restaurant here offers fresh and healthful food options, and Shenango Valley residents are eating it up.

But are the menu items for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert? The answer is “all of the above.”

The co-branded store opened in May in a small plaza at 2429 E. State St. and has been outpacing the chain’s expectations.

A Frutta Bowls specialty, with acai, granola, blueberries and other fruit.

Russell Mischel, director of operations for SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls, visited the Hermitage location last week. He said the Shenango Valley has quickly embraced the healthy concept.

“We are above predictions for sales,” Mischel says. “Catering is also doing well, with businesses ordering it for their meetings.”

SaladWorks/Frutta Bowl is just one of the brands operated by Philadelphia-based WoWorks USA. The 400-store chain also owns Barberitos, Zoup!, Garbanzo and The Simple Greek.

WoWorks purchased The Simple Greek, which originated in the Youngstown area, about a year ago, and still maintains some locations.

WoWorks chose the Hermitage site because it already had a Garbanzo there. The new SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls store is adjacent to the Garbanzo, and they all share a kitchen and dining room. Guests can walk between the two without going outside.

Customer preferences at the new Hermitage SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls store have also bucked the norm.

“We were surprised, because at a majority of our co-branded stores, Frutta Bowls is a small portion of sales,” Mischel says. “But here, it’s been significantly higher than at the others. People here love it. Once they taste it, we get a lot of repeat business.”

Maureen Weetman is one of those repeat customers.

“I’ve been coming here two or three times a week since it opened,” she says. Weetman lives in Poland, Ohio, but works in Hermitage.

“The food is fresh and delicious, and I like the healthy aspect,” she said.

The chain is also testing morning hours at the Hermitage store – and again finding success. Many customers stop in for a breakfast smoothie on the way to work, Mischel says.

The three distinct menus of SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls and Garbanzo complement each other and keep customers coming in all day and evening.

“We knew the brands do well together,” Mischel says, “and we know people are looking for healthy food and lots of choices.  You can create your own salad, and that is interesting to them. Everything is low fat, and Frutta bowls are made with acai. That’s a healthy ingredient and there is always a market for that.”

Mischel says the chain invested roughly a million dollars on the location, which employs about 20 and has a dining room that seats about 40.

SaladWorks salads are made from dozens of fresh ingredients.

The Hermitage SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls is the chain’s first foray into the Mahoning-Shenango Valley.

It’s not the only chain in the area that offers salad or acai products, but it is the only one that offers both under one roof. The brands were combined into one store for practical purposes.

“Frutta Bowls is a tough concept to operate by itself,” Mischel says, “because it doesn’t have a huge menu – just six or eight items.”

The chain’s marketing department has been thinking outside the box in other ways. “We have locations in airports, on campuses, military bases and hospitals,” Mischel says. “We are even testing kiosks in supermarkets.”

SaladWorks offers signature salads, wraps, paninis, soup and sandwiches. Guests can also build their own salad from about 60 ingredients.

On the Frutta Bowls side, the star is more obvious: acai, the sweet and healthful frozen Brazilian treat made from the fruit of the acai palm.

Cold like sorbet and with a similar texture, acai is the foundation of many Frutta Bowls items.

“It’s a super food,” Mischel says. “It’s super high in antioxidants and protein… We see a lot of customers who are coming directly from the gym.”

Those who do not want acai can choose a base of Greek yogurt, pitaya (a cactus fruit, mixed with banana, pineapple and almond milk), oatmeal, or greens (kale, banana, pineapple, almond milk). To complete the bowl, guests can choose from lists of granola, fruit and toppings. Smoothies are also available, and there is a pick-two option that includes a small smoothie bowl and a half-salad.

Depending on the base, the bowls can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or a late treat.

Mischel says he wants the Hermitage store to become a community hangout. To that end, benches will be placed on the sidewalk in front.

Christine Gillam, manager of the Hermitage SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls and Garbanzo, says the eateries are already making inroads into  the community.

“Every Thursday is Thankful Thursday,” she says. “We will go to a doctor’s office, police station or someone else we are thankful for, and surprise them by bringing them catering.”

Saladworks/Frutta Bowl is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Pictured at top: Russell Mischel, director of operations for SaladWorks/Frutta Bowls, and Christine Gillam, store manager, stand behind the counter of the Hermitage, Pa., location.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.