Chief Executive Officer
Salad Collective, LLC
Location: Golden, CO
Darden Coors is MAD- about greens, that is - and she is not afraid to embrace it!
Intent on disrupting the status quo that healthy, fast and fresh food should be mainstream, not the alternative, MAD Greens was established in 2004. Coors stepped in as Chief Executive in 2013 with an eye on rapid growth, and MAD Greens expanded its madness beyond state lines and tripled the number of locations in just five years. Darden streamlined the MAD Greens menu to simplify kitchen training, improve margins and better leverage the supply chain. After extensive research and development, she introduced warm grain bowls, which have grown to 20% of the product mix in just two years. She expanded the corporate team to include in-house tech support and graphic design, while outsourcing responsibilities like purchasing and phone orders to maximize resources.
And her vision continued to grow. She made the decision to “consaladate.”
Merging with Snappy Salads, a Dallas-based salad-centric restaurant, Salad Collective became a regular in the fast-casual salad space. With Coors at the helm, both brands were able to survive 2020, due to her leadership and swift action. She furloughed all 800 employees for 40 days in order to preserve cash reserves, apply for and receive a PPP loan, and implement tech innovations. Upon re-opening, Coors navigated a constantly changing world of crisis to expand delivery channels and menu offerings that travel well. The company saw over 100% rise in digital sales thanks to these efforts.
And Coors continues to cultivate her organic garden.
“My goal is to get to 100 units within five years,” she said. “We are already in talks with a couple of potential partners and looking forward to growing our brands in the coming years.” She added that currently the company is expanding not only in sales but in meeting and keeping a positive culture for employees.
“I intend to focus on our people right now,” she said. “In 2020, we were actually able to enhance our benefits package to offer a 401k and wellness payment efforts. I want to expand benefits plans even more while strengthening internal development processes. I also want to cultivate a better brand culture by re-articulating our cultural core values, then communicating, cultivating and celebrating them daily - and for years to come.”
An exemplary Titan, Coors tends to her business under a resilient, roll-up-your-sleeves leadership necessary in a relatively small, growing restaurant company.
From brokering the deal to working the line for every restaurant opened during her tenure, she lends her super palate to the culinary committee to create seasonal offerings at the forefront of culinary trends for the fast-casual industry. She participates in weekly calls with all the multi-unit operators discussing everything from knife sharpening to COGS to team success stories; spearheads marketing strategy for loyalty programs, branding and digital engagement, and networks with other restaurant executives to share best practices and technology solutions.
Coors said that while awards and speaking engagements are not something she seeks out, she is proud of the recognition received, like having MAD Greens frequently appear on Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers list (as high as #22 and as recently as 2020) and receiving an inaugural Women in the Lead (WILD) certification from Fast Casual, recognizing Salad Collective as one of the best restaurant brands with strong female leadership. Kind donations to companies include: No Kid Hungry, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and dozens of community gardens and hundreds of local schools.
Proud of her accomplishments, but ever humble, Coors said the best way to lead through change is to have good communication up and down the organization.
“I measure my success by the quality, contributions and development of my direct team and the leaders at all levels of our organization,” she said. “When we are successful, we are hiring, retaining and developing good people who provide positive leadership throughout the organization.”
She added that successful leaders need not be in a rush but stresses the importance of taking their time.
“I think as leaders there always seems to be a sense of urgency to every decision and sometimes decisions are unnecessarily rushed. I would advise the rising leaders to take the time to evaluate the entire situation rather than just react to what is right in front of you,” she said. “Even if you are a quick decision maker, others around you may not be so give everyone time to get on the same page.”
She added that the best leaders she has worked with are the ones who ask lots of questions, provide transparency and solve the right problems.
Thank you, Ms. Head of Lettuce, for your insight. These are words to grow on."
Darden has visited 17 out of 30 of the Major League Baseball parks, with a goal to visit them all. She once caught a fly ball at Coors Field and often goes to games with her son, who's an avid baseball player himself.