Chop’t’s essential ingredient: Its founders

Evy Mages/For The Washington Post - Lisa Chang, (L to R), Brian Tang and Daniel Lees enjoy their salads as Cop't restaurant participates in the Breast Cancer awareness month with serving their salads in pink bowls and donating some proceeds, 1730 Pennsylavania Ave, NW, Washington, D.C., October, 4th, 2012.

Business partners Tony Shure and Colin McCabe of Chop’t Creative Salad Company go together like egg and bacon in a Cobb salad.

The two foodies, who have known each other since high school, come by entrepreneurship naturally. It’s in their DNA.

(Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post) - Founders of Chop't, Colin McCabe (L) and Tony Shure (R) inside their Pennsylvania Ave NW store in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012. Chop't, the New York-based salad fast-food restaurant has several locations in Washington.

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Shure’s father is in New York real estate, and his mother makes films. His uncle is Robert Evans, the bigger-than-life film producer best known for “The Godfather” and “Chinatown.” His other uncle — and first investor — was the late Charles Evans, founder of the Evan-Picone clothing label, producer of the film “Tootsie,” and a real estate developer.

McCabe’s father, Ed McCabe, is one of the original Mad Men, a legend on Madison Avenue. He and the firm he co-founded created several iconic ad campaigns from the 1960s and ’70s.

Shure and McCabe think about food — a lot. McCabe can list his favorite restaurants on New York’s Upper East Side (Elio’s for Italian, the Whitney Museum for breakfast). Shure can tell you where to find the best pork sandwich in the East Village (Porchetta) and the tastiest Venezuelan arepas (Caracas Arepa Bar).

They are also in Washington almost weekly, where they have set up a base in the Hotel Lombardy on Pennsylvania Avenue.

They just opened up their ninth Washington area Chop’t last week in Wildwood Manor Shopping Center in Bethesda, where it is neighbors with Balducci’s market (which drains my paycheck, I can tell you).

McCabe, boyish and cheery, handles much of the real estate end of the business, trolling for real estate locations and negotiating deals. He recalls his first location, a former party-supply store on 17th Street off Union Square in New York. One thing stood out: women carrying yoga mats. It told him there were young, hungry residents who cared about their health and bodies.

Shure, who gets giddy talking about his latest salad concoctions, concentrates on the food end. His calls his Manhattan apartment a laboratory for salads. He and McCabe once passed up a deal on hearts of palm that would have saved them $75,000. The quality wasn’t quite right.

It was Shure’s uncle Charles who offered not only the first investment but also some prescient advice: Use the best ingredients and the customers will follow. “Better sells better,” he told them.

Shure can wax for hours on his mission to excite customers with good food. He can talk about the evolution of the Cobb salad from the Brown Derby in Los Angeles. He can talk about Marcona almonds, pimenton, romesco — whatever those are.

His salads aren’t all about the speed of the line. They are also about experience.

“We are trying to break people’s routines on a daily basis with variety and quality and creativity,” Shure said. “You can’t go to Barcelona for lunch. But you can if you go to Chop’t.”

He paces pensively in his Pennsylvania Avenue store, a few steps from the White House. He begins to talk about the store’s furniture, its origins, why it works. Every detail is assessed.

“I think about this all the time,” he says.

And that’s another ingredient. The one that makes a successful entrepreneur.

 
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