Tina MacInnes was operating two of the highest volume restaurants in Salata’s growing restaurant chain system. Then, out of nowhere, COVID-19 strikes. Between the excitement of seeing her customers relish build-your-own salads and a dynamic transformation of her restaurant, a pandemic crashed the economy, putting her business in survival mode.
New Year, new look, new challenge
MacInnes unveiled a new look for her 10898 Westheimer Road location in January after using the Christmas holiday to perform extensive renovations. The ceilings, formerly orange, were painted white. Wood flooring replaced tile. “All tables and booths are 100 percent new,” said MacInnes. She swapped old dining room chairs for ones made of teak. There’s new signage. New glass at the ordering line touches the counter for a complete seal. “We didn’t intend for this to be a COVID barrier during our renovation, but it works perfect,” she said.
Salata typically does a five-year refresh and 10-year remodel of its stores. MacInnes’ store in Westchase District was at its six-year mark when she decided on the refresh. Her restaurant’s success also drove the timing. “This location is very popular so it led to wear and tear,” said MacInnes. New Salata restaurants will mirror her store’s interior and don a new, rebranded logo.
Familiarity with Westchase District: Perfect for restaurants
A Houston native, she learned about business from her father who owned a construction company. She started with three Salata locations and now owns four. Her Westchase location, opened in 2013, ranks second in the company while her I-10 and Mason Road store is number one. Her success will be accentuated when Salata expands outside of Texas and California with growth plans calling for 300 more stores.
Having grown up in the area and living in Alief as a newlywed, MacInnes knew about the District’s market strengths. “It’s a strong area, has the business and established neighborhoods a restaurant needs,” said MacInnes. From the moment she opened her Westchase location, it became a community favorite. “The regulars live right here; they live right behind us. I wanted to start a business in an area where I really knew the clientele and people. It’s been extremely successful being here – being on Westheimer close to the Beltway is a plus,” said MacInnes.
Flying high until hitting harsh COVID headwinds
The COVID crisis and mandatory shutdown forced MacInnes to wrestle with how to keep employees while revenue losses mounted. By mid-March her anxiety level peaked as the painful reality of layoffs set in. Once office buildings closed, her lunch crowds and catering orders stopped. “We’re a lunch-based business and were super happy to reopen our dining room,” said MacInnes. “We were able to secure a PPP loan which helped us survive.”
Designed for small business, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was funded by stimulus relief packages passed by Congress. Her landlord even waived one month’s lease payment. “We’ve had to lay off a few employees but were able to bring some back. Once people return to work in the area we’ll get back on our feet.”
Adapting to COVID
Salata responded quickly to COVID-mandated safety guidelines. Staff has been retrained on sanitation. They undergo regular temperature checks, are issued masks and must sign a health form. For carry-out and dine-in, floors were marked for social distancing and employees were retrained to separate guests as they move through the line to order their custom salads. Some tables are marked “closed” to comply with capacity rules.
Salata’s pick-up window allows for no-contact service as online ordering has doubled. “Having a take-out window helped save this location,” said MacInnes. To handle more delivery orders, she partnered with DoorDash.
App Creates Excitement
MacInnes hasn’t let COVID deter her business. The company recently launched a Salata app. Customers can customize individual and catering orders and earn rewards. Every 100 points earns users a $7 salad kitchen credit. “There’s huge need for an app as more people want contactless ordering. It’s very easy, it’s very efficient,” said MacInnes.