Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group Invests in LA-Based Fast Casual Tender Greens

Danny Meyer is a guy you want to have sitting at your table — or more specifically, on your Board of Directors. Luckily, for three fast-casual co-founders, that’s become a reality. Recently, Tender Greens, an LA-based fast casual, announced a significant minority investment led by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, along with growth equity firm Alliance Consumer Growth. For USHG, which has been around for 30 years, this is the first investment of its kind.

Talk about an epic 10-year anniversary present for Tender Greens.

But what exactly is it about the concept that appealed to Meyer, industry innovator and iconic CEO and founder?

“Every now and then, I’ll visit a restaurant and love the idea — the food, the people, the culture — so much that I wish I’d thought of it myself,” said Meyer in the official press release. “That’s exactly what happened with Tender Greens.”

Though no amount has been publicly disclosed, the investment and strategic alliance will be used to grow the Tender Greens brand in California and beyond.

The TG Touch

Led by Erik Oberholtzer, David Dressler, and Matt Lyman — all with backgrounds in fine dining — Tender Greens is known for its good-for-you fare and local produce. In fact, just recently, the 22-unit chain’s Hollywood location began growing its own food with aeroponic towers provided by Green City Farms. The vertical gardens — Tender Greens invested in 24 of them — can grow up to 44 plants per tower, and are filled with an assortment of fruits and veggies. This is just one of the many reasons Tender Greens ranked No. 5 on Foodable Labs Top 100 Fast Casual Brands for Q2. 

Another reason? The chain’s consistency, seen in everything from its branding strategy to its menu. And, as Tender Greens Co-Founder David Dressler admits, this can also be seen in their approach to investment.

“We waited to find the right partner who shares our same philosophy about building a company that we would want to work for and that everyone would love,” said Dressler. “By welcoming Union Square Hospitality Group and Alliance Consumer Growth to our table, we begin our next chapter with a strategic partner who has a collection of the finest restaurants in New York with 26 James Beard Awards to their credit, the creator of the better burger phenom Shake Shack, and their founder (and our hero) Danny Meyer on our board of directors. Not to mention access to growth and development resources we have always wanted, and a network of other special brands to collaborate with and learn from.”

Food x Culture x People

The Happy Vegan salad at Tender Greens

The Happy Vegan salad at Tender Greens

Tender Greens’ menu items — which vary by location — include farm-to-fork fare, including “big plates” like herb-brushed albacore (grilled rare, sea salt, lemon, olive oil), “big salads” like the Happy Vegan (wheat with cranberry and hazelnuts, quinoa with cucumber and beets, green hummus, tabbouleh, tender greens), and simple salads, comfort soups, and plant-based sides (roasted corn and heirloom bean salad, for example). Tender Greens also offers a full breakfast menu from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., including breakfast sandwiches and miscellaneous fare, like granola and yogurt and house-cured bacon quiche (house-cured bacon, Scarborough Farms spinach, goat cheese). 

Steak sandwich with roasted red peppers, housemade aioli on a toasted ciabatta roll

Steak sandwich with roasted red peppers, housemade aioli on a toasted ciabatta roll

Aside from its made-to-order, chef-driven menu (each unit is led by an Executive Chef), Tender Greens has created a brand culture that is fun, friendly, and customer-focused. It has its own blog, hosts its own events by location (like interactive dinners with the chef), and it is apparent that the TG brand works as part of a movement rather than just a restaurant concept.

One of the major drivers of Tender Greens being a Top 5 Fast Casual Brand is because of its customer engagement. For example, in a recent blog post, Tender Greens did a Q&A with one of its super-fan customers to show some love. The brand reached out to him on Instagram after noticing he eats there every single day. In the blog post, the fan (Danny Jeffers) says what he loves most about Tender Greens (aside from the food, of course) is the people. “I’m a huge fan of the positive atmosphere Tender Greens emanates,” he writes. “The crew is always positive and happy… and everyone there smiles. You rarely ever see an unhappy person.”

Hospitality 2.0

When it comes to hospitality and making sure customers are happy, Danny Meyer certainly knows a thing or two. Union Square Hospitality Group owns 12 highly acclaimed restaurants in New York, including Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, and booming fast casual Shake Shack.

Burgers & beer at Shake Shack

Burgers & beer at Shake Shack

The latter, which went public in Q1 of this year, is known for its trend-setting collaborations, consistent service and food, and its prime real estate. Raising the bar for the “better burger” segment, Shake Shack was recently ranked No. 4 on Foodable Labs Top 100 Fast Casual Brands for Q2. In May, Shake Shack’s flagship location (Madison Square Park) reopened after a 7-month renovation. And most recently, the brand unleashed an entirely new menu item: a fried chicken sandwich called the ChickenShack. Known for its burgers, Shake Shack could be setting itself up to appeal to even more consumers since chicken is a top ordered protein. (Right now, the ChickenShack is only available in Shake Shack’s Brooklyn locations.) Q2 has seen continued expansion of the chain, including new locations in New Jersey, Austin and Scottsdale, and an introduction of Shake Shack breakfast in D.C.’s Union Station location. And that's not even touching on all of Q2’s Shack collaborations — with chefs, artists and charity foundations.

“Up until now, we’ve built our company by planting seeds from scratch, and then growing them ourselves,” said Meyer. “Lately, I’ve been asking, ‘Whoever wrote the rule…,’ and in this case, the question was, ‘Whoever wrote the rule that we can’t also grow our company by investing in a great idea even when the seed has taken root in someone else’s garden?’ Above all, I’m so excited for USHG to champion a like-minded company whose entire team shares our passion for culinary excellence and Enlightened Hospitality.”