Fast and Fresh Success at Local Food Chain Nalley Fresh

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Greg Nalley of Nalley Fresh
Greg Nalley of Nalley Fresh

Entering Nalley Fresh at lunchtime can present a challenge.  With such a wide and appetizing selection, which signature salad to sample?  Or forego a salad in favor of a custom bowl?

This very challenge has lead to the success of Greg Nalley’s Nalley Fresh restaurants, with several locations in Baltimore city and county and more to come.  Built around the “point and pick” concept first introduced at restaurants like Mexican fast food chain Chipotle, Nalley Fresh offers customers an array of signature salads, bowls and wraps as well as the option to build their own dish.

Nalley first came up with the idea in 2010 when he went to Chipotle with his kids.  He loved the concept, but wanted to broaden it, adding a healthier twist.

Nalley is no stranger to the food industry.  He has been in the business since 1992.  For ten years, he served as executive chef for the Maryland Jockey Club servicing Pimlico, Laurel and other tracks.  In 2001, however, a late-stage cancer diagnosis forced Nalley to rethink his future, and he decided to pursue his long-held dream of opening a restaurant.

His first restaurant, Harvest Table, opened at Tide Point in 2002.  He sold it in 2008.  Following the sale, Greg took time for himself, fishing and consulting in the restaurant industry. 

“Then I started to get on my wife’s nerves,” he jokes. “I needed to find something to do.”

In 2011, he took his idea and opened the first Nalley Fresh on Baltimore Street in downtown Baltimore. The 900 square-foot location is his most successful business express weekday lunch spot of his four express locations in Baltimore, Canton, Hunt Valley, and Towson.

Nalley Fresh

In the beginning, Nalley devoted the menu to salads and wraps.  Soon he added bowls, mixing a mid-grain rice with the salad and wrap ingredients.  Adding his own signature dressings and a touch of warm broth made the bowls a hit, comprising about 50 percent of his sales.

Nalley has a hand in all of his recipes and prides himself on his fresh dressings.  He remains dedicated to constantly lowering the use of processed foods, thereby eliminating preservatives and hyper-processing.  Because of this, Nalley’s menu includes fresh ingredients and healthy alternatives, and every option can be paired with a protein selection.  Nalley oversees the preparation and recipes.

“I wish I could do more cooking,” he laments, but he spends much of his time overseeing his growing business, opening new locations, training new employees, and ensuring a consistently warm and welcoming atmosphere.

His role also includes experimenting with new ideas.  This spring, customers can look forward to a Paleo Apple Cider Vinaigrette meant to please health conscious customers and “gym rats.”  Another new feature: the sweet potato bowl, a low-carb, high-protein alternative to the rice bowl.

This fall, Nalley opened his first seven-day-a-week, lunch/dinner location in Timonium, across from the Timonium Fairgrounds.  Its success has exceeded expectations and will likely inspire other more full-service venues.  He credits his partner, developer Brad Hoag, for growing the business into more markets including a new venture in the Can Company in Canton and upcoming openings on Pratt Street in Baltimore city, and in Bel Air and White Marsh.  The partnership affords Nalley more time to do what he does best: ensuring food quality, developing recipes, greeting customers, and leading culinary classes.

His latest restaurant, Tuscan Fresh, on Fort Avenue in Federal Hill, an Italian version of Nalley Fresh, where customers can pair custom pasta dishes with wine on tap.  Despite the new concept, the fresh ingredients and signature dishes for which Nalley Fresh is known remain constant.

It has been a long road to success for Nalley Fresh, a journey Nalley acknowledges.

“It took me 20 years to be an overnight success,” he quips.

He has been especially humbled by the growth of the business in the last two years.  In fact, he says he knew he had hit it when a mother of two teenage daughters told him that her girls now Instagram Nalley Fresh. (The company’s “social wall” is a popular and entertaining space where customers post Nalley Fresh photos and recipes via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Check it out it, here.)

“Making a 12 and a 14 year old girl happy, that makes me happy.”  

Frequent any Nalley Fresh location on a busy work day and you will see what the hype is about.  If you are lucky, you might see Greg Nalley there himself, working hard to make you happy, too.



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