Rising StarPolishing the Apple with Emma Dye of Crisp

As an entrepreneur, you know how important it is to scale your business by fine-tuning processes and improving efficiencies. Emma Dye sure does. She tells us about some sage advice she received from the owner of Mother’s Bistro and how using resources available to entrepreneurs can help overcome the isolation you feel when starting your business. Crisp, Emma’s chopped salad restaurant in Portland, Oregon, was featured on KGW and turned a profit in its 2nd full year. If you like them apples, turnip the beet.

Read more from Emma below:

The spark that inspired the birth of your concept: In my prior career I traveled a LOT & was always on the look-out for healthy, fast, convenient options. A co-worker took me to a place in Manhattan called Chop’t. Not only was a there a ton of variety but they also CHOPPED my salad which I love! When you’re sitting at your desk it’s a pain to try & cut a huge piece of lettuce or a whole slice of tomato with a plastic fork. Chopping also means you get a lot more veggies & nutrients in a smaller bowl. I started specifically looking for chopped salad restaurants in my travels & was pleasantly surprised to find several – Denver, Austin, California all had options. I knew it would do well in Portland & figured someone was going to eventually open a chopped to order salad restaurant…then I thought, “That person should be me!”

The problem it solves: Portland is such a food mecca! But a person can only eat so many carb-loaded sandwiches, burgers & pork belly! Crisp solves the need for a fast, fresh, healthy, real and non-processed whole food option. We also are great for catering meetings & events because we can serve the needs of everyone present – meat eaters to vegans; gluten-free to carb-loading – we’ve got something for everyone which is great if you have to feed 10, 20, 100 people with different wants & needs.

How you came up with the name: A lot of playing around with different words & ideas. We wanted something simple & easy for people to remember & something that would invoke vegetables at their best.

How you are better/different than your competition: What competition? No one else in Portland is chopping salads to order. There are rumblings of some big players coming to town. When that eventually happens I believe our focus on being locally owned & locally sourced will resonate with Portlanders. That being said, I also think there’s a lot of room for more salad focused restaurants – right now it seems there are burger joints & sandwich shops easily accessible everywhere but try to find a quick, hearty salad on the go in this town…it’s near impossible.   

How you make money: By focusing on quality, customer service, food & labor costs. We also have a very robust loyalty program to encourage folks to come back & reward those who frequent Crisp. It’s been very powerful.

The best thing about being an entrepreneur: Something I had not anticipated or really thought much about when I was putting together my business plan: job creation & providing a happy, healthy place for folks to work. I take a lot of pride in how much effort we put into cultivating a culture of compassion for each other. People want to come to work when it’s a great environment! We’re not perfect but our employees know we care.

The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: Finding great groups like OEN & EOA. Being an entrepreneur can feel very isolating when you’re starting out if you don’t come from a family or background where starting businesses & taking risks is the culture. It’s been great to learn that there are resources out there to actually help grow our business! It’s also been wonderful networking & getting to know other entrepreneurs as we can all learn from each other…and we can appreciate and sympathize with the struggles, too.

Your biggest success: Showing a profit in our 2nd full year!

A failure story to share and what you learned: We hired someone at the start to manage the restaurant & he wound up being horrible. In hindsight, he interviewed well & had the experience so there wouldn’t have been a way to know at that point but we should have fired him much sooner. I learned it’s better to rip the band-aid off quickly.

What keeps you up at night: There isn’t just one thing! Expansion, cash flow, work-life balance, employees…

The best entrepreneurial advice you have received: “Polish the apple.” From Lisa Schroeder owner/chef at Mother’s Bistro at a restaurant event over a year ago. I was very gung-ho to open a 2nd location but we weren’t ready then. We needed to fine tune our processes & improve some efficiencies – our apple was so NOT polished then! But now…we’re ALWAYS improving but we’re also much more replicable now.   

Your #1 piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ironically, I tell our new team members at Crisp all the time, “Ask questions, ask for help – don’t wing it!” But this is something I have an inherently hard time doing myself and have to force myself to do. There are so many great people out there who are willing to share their experience, wisdom & advice – I wish I would have done more of that in the beginning. I did some but should have done more. I’m doing that much more now!

What wild success looks like: The ability for Portlanders to get a freshly chopped Crisp salad in all areas of the city AND the suburbs!

Fun fact: I grew up in Alaska and moved to Portland in 1996 – the northwest is truly home & there is nowhere I’d rather live than Oregon!

Find out more: http://www.crispsaladsnw.com/

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