With four Big Salad restaurants open and two more set to debut this spring, owner John Bornoty says he expects the 4-year-old company to serve its one-millionth item in 2013.
The chain's newest and largest location, which opened last fall in Novi, is also the company's flagship store, where franchisees come for training and new menu items are developed and test-marketed.
Bornoty -- a Grosse Pointe entrepreneur whose businesses range from entertainment to technology -- hopes to expand the company to 200 franchised locations across the country over the next 10 years.
Rather than having guests help themselves at a self-serve bar, the Big Salad displays its ingredients behind a glass partition, and a salad chef assembles them to customers' specifications. Guests choose their greens (iceberg, spinach, romaine or a combination) and select from 30 vegetables, eight meats and seafoods, eight dry toppings (such as dried cranberries or sunflower seeds) and 30 dressings. Or they can choose one of a dozen named salads ($6.95-$9.95), ranging from Greek, Caesar and Cobb to a Maurice, Baja and Antipasto.
The menu also offers seven sandwiches with a choice of several breads or wrappers and a rotating list of 14 house-made soups. Chicken noodle, at 90 calories a cup, and tomato basil, at 190 calories, are available daily.
Bornoty said the inspiration for the company came to him several years ago when he was eating a sandwich at a Manhattan deli and noticed many customers choosing a healthier meal at a make-your-own salad bar at the back of the restaurant. Like other salad bars, it required customers to share serving utensils, and the salad ingredients weren't refilled until they were almost gone, meaning that some stayed on the bar so long they looked wilted.
Big Salad avoids those problems by having only employees touch the utensils and ingredients, and by carefully managing the sourcing, preparation, storage and display of ingredients, the company says.
I dropped into the new Novi restaurant last Saturday for lunch and was pleased with the number and freshness of salad ingredients. The build-your-own salads come in two sizes -- Big with up to seven toppings ($8.95), and Baby Big with up to four toppings ($6.95). I ordered a Big, which was so large I took half of it home for a second meal.
Be aware that you can request a trial taste of salad dressing before making your choice. And note that croutons don't count as a topping. They're free -- and fresh and good -- and if your salad chef forgets, ask for them. Unfortunately, Big Salad's beverages don't include coffee; only cold drinks are available.
The dining room is light, airy and spacious, and the furnishings are simple and attractive. The restaurant is at 43168 Grand River east of Novi Road, next door to PeiWei.
Other locations are in Grosse Pointe Woods, Troy and Royal Oak. Stores in Ann Arbor and Rochester are expected to open this spring, and Bornoty is looking for more franchisees. For menus, addresses and other information, seewww.thebigsalad.net.
Fresh Mex downtown
Carnival Fresh Mex restaurant opened in the Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit this week, serving 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday. It will also open for many special downtown events, including both weekends during the auto show.
The restaurant, which seats about 50, grew out of the popular carryout counter and café inside Pontiac's Carnival Market, a Mexican supermarket with a wide range of prepared foods, all made in house from fresh ingredients.
The Detroit restaurant preps its own fresh ingredients on site daily and cooks to order in an open kitchen behind the counter where customers place and pick up their orders. A serve-yourself salsa bar beside the kitchen offers several kinds of house-made salsas. (645 Griswold at Fort; 313-223-1400)