Elevated salad bar SaladHead's all about locally sourced, sustainable ingredients.
Chef Martin Weaver is a veteran of fancy restaurants, but he never wanted one of his own. (Photo by Kimberly Park.)
When it comes to unique fast casual restaurants, one chef and farmer duo know how to get ahead. SaladHead, to be exact.
Houston chef Martin Weaver and farmer Andrew Alvis are teaming up to create an elevated salad bar, chock-a-block full of robust lettuce and refined toppings. It’s a whole new way to get your greens, right in the heart of West University at 5410 Kirby.
The space used to house a My Fit Foods. Maybe SaladHead will be a better fit.
SaladHead is slated to open in late December or early January. Just in time for those eating healthier New Year’s resolutions.
Health-conscious salad bars are nothing new, but SaladHead is betting you’ve never seen it quite like this. If Salata is a Samsung, SaladHead aims to be an iPhone. Think seasonal, sustainable ingredients and eight different varieties of lettuce.
The business partners have even come up with a term for their nutritious niche.
“We’re root to bowl,” Weaver tells PaperCity.
It’s next-level farm-to-table, with all the lettuce grown aquaponically by Alvis’ Sustainable Harvesters farm, then transported to the restaurant with their roots still on. Tilapia naturally fertilizes the heads in the cleaner alternative to hydroponics.
At the restaurant, diners pick what type of head they want while the vegetable’s still fresh.
“We chop the root right there in front of them,” Alvis says. “It’s as much like getting a living salad head as you can.”
The SaladHead creators are making sure that everything is cooked to order, sustainable and leaves a smaller footprint on the environment, by using aquaponics. When it comes to chemicals, when it comes to over-processed meat, they leaf it alone.
Weaver and Alvis shudder at many salad bars’ bland toppings and questionable cubes that supposedly count as meat. They’re not about raw shallots. It’s more like rosemary confit by Weaver and butternut squash and watermelon from Atkinson Farm. And they’re picky with protein purveyors.
Expect locally sourced chicken, grilled steak from 44 Farms, heritage breed pork from Black Hill Ranch and roasted fish from Frixos.
See? Salad’s not just for vegetarians and vegans. But, it wouldn’t be a salad bar without some token tofu. SaladHead’s got you covered.
It all started with a chance meeting. Weaver is a Le Cordon Bleu in Austin graduate, a former chef at Artisans, KUU and Brennan’s of Houston — and a contestant on Food Network’s Chopped. He met Alvis at an Urban Harvest farmers market.
“He brought the idea up to me over a drink at the bar over in Midtown after work,” Weaver says.
It didn’t take too long — or too many drinks— for them to flesh out the fresh offerings. Alvis, half-owner of Sustainable Harvesters, knew the importance of getting down to basics. It’s firmly rooted in the plant that started it all: lettuce.
“All year long, we’ll have eight varieties to choose from, and seasonal varieties as well. What I’ve noticed through Sustainable Harvesters, from farm tours and boy scout groups and things like that, is people come out and they don’t really know what lettuce is other than romaine, iceberg, your typical spring mix,” Alvis says.
“Even as a chef you don’t know they all exist,” Weaver adds.
So get rid of that bagged mix you got at the grocery store last week. You know, the one you’ll probably toss without ever even opening. Imagine the other options: fresh butter lettuce, oakleaf lettuce, crisphead lettuce, Lollo Rossa lettuce.
“They all carry their own flavor profile, with colors as well — reds, greens, and spotted lettuces,” Alvis says.
And there’s more than just DIY. Weaver and Alvis are crafting a menu with signature salads, along with wraps, sandwiches and smaller plates. Weaver’s working on grain bowls, currently experimenting with quinoa and couscous. Say that five times fast.
Weaver’s blending in the best of his background with his future goals.
“I’ve helped open a lot of high-end restaurants,” he says. “I started at Artisans as a line chef, then helped open KUU from the ground up. That’s really where I met Andrew. It let me go to farmers markets and pick up seasonal ingredients, do that changing menu that’s seasonal, local.
“Afterwards I took over at Brennan’s as executive sous chef. I basically brought a little of that culture over there to Brennan’s as well. Opening a fine dining restaurant has not been my goal. I’m taking what I’ve learned from a fine dining restaurant and incorporating it and making it a better price point where more people can afford it and eat high-quality food.”
The design will vibe with that, developed by Gin Braverman of gin design group, who is known for places like Beckrew Wine House, Public Services Wine & Whiskey and Oxheart.
“It’ll be an organic, industrial, kind of clean vibe. Kind of an eclectic, organic-y feel,” Alvis says.
“We want it to be warm and vibrant when you first walk in the door. The spot you’re walking into the restaurant has a very open space and open feel,” Weaver adds.
They want to spread the word that “salad” doesn’t just mean Caesar or Cobb. “There are so many different salads,” Weaver says.
And who knows, if SaladHead grows on people, they may open more locations. Lettuce wait and see.