Fast Casual CEOs on How to Develop Lifestyle Brands

The fast casual movement has been influenced by health-conscious consumers looking for quality food offerings at an affordable price point with quick speed of service.

But within this segment, there are brands taking healthy eating to the next level. Many of these better-for-you concepts are much more than restaurants for those looking to live a healthier life. They have morphed into lifestyle brands.

A lifestyle restaurant brand markets its concept to embody the interests, attitudes, and opinions of a group or a culture. They inspire, guide, and motivate their customer-base, while their brand helps to contribute to the elements that make up a consumer's way of life.

We sat down with founders from two lifestyle brands in the category– Abhi Bhansali, co-founder of City Greens and Steve Schulze, co-founder and CEO at Nekter Juice Bar to see how they continue to keep their audience engaged.

How has your brand become so much more than just a chain of restaurants and has morphed into a lifestyle brand?

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Schulze: Brands today are much more than a brick and mortar. They live beyond the space in a multitude of ways. The goal that we had at Nekter was to build a gateway to a better lifestyle, better eating, and to wean diners off of processed foods and such. 

By gaining that experience, one thing leads to another, meaning they come in for a green juice and that leads to walking the dog that night, or maybe having fish or chicken later, instead of a steak or a burger. 

It's important that you're represented on all fronts, including social. If it were easy to build a brand, everybody would do it. It's the guests that build the brand, then the goal of the company is to follow that guidance and be an ambassador for the brand.

Bhansali: When we first launched, we wanted to bring fresh, nutritious food to New Orleans, quickly and conveniently. Simply put, that was who we were.

Since then, by taking a page from Maslow, we’re going beyond the physiological to contribute to our guests’, teams’ and community’s daily lives through activity, connectivity, education and support. It fuels us to know that - even if in a very small way - we can help people live happier, fuller lives.

How does your brand promote its message using social?

Schulze: Again, social is a tool to represent your lifestyle. As far as using social content, obviously the goal is to create a lot of your own content. We also use guest content as well. You don't need to, nor should you try to use social to sell your brand. It's more of a reinforcement of who you are and not a tool to drive revenue. It's more of a tool to reinforce your brand values and brand standards. 

Bhansali: It's less about promotion and more about communication. Our content is primarily based around our food, people and partners. Through messaging on our relationships with yoga studios, community relief organizations or youth farming initiatives, we amplify our activities, making our contributions to our customers’ lifestyles or our communities’ that much stronger. 

What consumer trends are you seeing and how does your concept incorporate them?

Schulze: Fundamentally, there's been a seismic shift in how people view food. You're seeing healthier fast casual and QSRs. As far as trends and where it's going, consumers are looking for food as medicine. They are changing their lifestyle, changing their eating habits, changing their choices, and getting away from processed food to live a healthier life. With that in mind, the key is to offer as clean of a product as you can.  

Bhansali: At the moment, we see convenience and creativity being top-of-mind. On the convenience play, we are re-organizing our entire online ordering system to be more intuitive and we have partnered with UberEats and Postmates to bring our food directly to doorsteps. We are rolling out mobile-app payment for quicker checkouts and are beginning to build our mobile ordering solution. Same great food, just enhanced convenience - so our people can continue on with the people, places or professions they hold dear. 

With regard to creativity, people are eating out more than ever and have more options that ever. When it comes to salads and wraps, that means we need to maintain that same great quality and flavor with bold, new recipes that excite and encourage our guests to return regularly. Seasonal menus, specials and new menu categories are all part of that effort.