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Naked Greens grows in Wilton

Victor Melendez sits at one of the tables at his Naked Greens Restaurant on Danbury Road. The restaurant opened in January and has been popular with families and students. —Jeannette Ross photo

Victor Melendez sits at one of the tables at his Naked Greens Restaurant on Danbury Road. The restaurant opened in January and has been popular with families and students. —Jeannette Ross photo

Less than a year after opening his first store in Norwalk, Victor Melendez is well on his way to his goal of building his own brand, unveiling his second Naked Greens restaurant in Wilton on Saturday, Jan. 12. Business has been brisk at the eatery, which is at 239 Danbury Road.

“It has been so busy it caught us off guard,” Mr. Melendez said. He immediately hired extra staff and purchased a second panini press.

With his new restaurant, Mr. Melendez has introduced several new items. They include six new wraps and salads, new salad ingredients, vegetable juices, and gourmet teas.

The new restaurant also features a new logo — a bowl with a stylized lettuce leaf on a bright green background — which Mr. Melendez believes more readily identifies his objective of providing “healthy food that tastes great but in a fast-food environment.”

The menu is relatively simple: grilled cheese, soup, salads, or wraps. But within those categories there are myriad choices: three types of bread, four types of cheese, six kinds of lettuce, dozens of salad or wrap add-ons, 22 dressings, five everyday soups as well as seven that appear on a rotating basis, and 16 signature salads/wraps.

“I don’t want people to get bored,” he said.

Salads are ordered far more often than wraps, but of the salads he said it is 50-50 when it comes to the signature salads or customers’ versions. Of the signature salads he said, “we know those taste good, they work. But some people want to create.”

The most popular soups are chicken rice, chicken noodle, beef chili, spinach white bean, and clam chowder. There are seven rotating soups and always two vegan soups.

Once the kinks are worked out of his new restaurant, Mr. Melendez, who lives in Wilton with his wife and children, will think about seasonal menu changes.

“I plan to have a feature salad/wrap of the month,” he said, as well as items in season.

Sophisticated

Mr. Melendez came to the restaurant business after a career in marketing. He designed the 3,000-square-foot space, with its bright walls, white and butcher-block-style tables and silver-tone chairs, to be light and airy.

“I wanted it to be very modern, clean and sophisticated. Fresh and open,” he said. Two walls are lined with real plants. He said he was going for “gallery meets restaurant.”

Food orders are taken and fulfilled in an assembly-line fashion. A few days after opening, customers were bunched at the counter, examining the menu.

“It takes getting used to,” Mr. Melendez said of the procedure. “In Norwalk it flows like a machine.”

To smooth things out, there is a wall-mounted menu at the back of the store as well as the one over the counter. There are order slips with pencils customers may fill out and simply hand to a Naked Greens staff member.

Customers may also order online for in-store pickup or delivery.

Although he is not a chef, Mr. Melendez has always been into healthy eating.

“The philosophy is to celebrate a healthy lifestyle,” he said, pointing out that all the utensils are biodegradable and recycling is a priority.

The menu includes no artificial ingredients, he said. Meat and seafood items are natural with no added hormones. “It’s a difference you can taste.”

While his ingredients are all-natural, they are not organic. “I am wrestling with that now,” he said, explaining that using organic items would raise costs significantly. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have organic items in the future.”

He worked with friends and families on developing the smoothies: four-berry, strawberry, strawberry-banana, mango, pineapple-coconut, passion fruit with guava, peach-pear-apricot, and frozen lemonade.

For the more adventurous there are the vegetable drinks: Green with Envy, Fresh Green, Carrot Explosion, CBC (carrot, beet and cucumber), Red-Green Fusion, Beet Blast, and Red Refresher.

Chai teas and gourmet coffees are served hot or cold.

Mr. Melendez said the Wilton restaurant has been popular with mothers and children and high school students. “On the weekends, we have so many kids here,” he said.

With free wi-fi, he hopes to attract customers from the many corporate parks just down the road. He is also hoping to draw a commuter crowd as they travel along Route 7. Naked Greens also offers catering.

Mr. Melendez will spend most of his time in the Wilton store, working out the kinks. “I want to hear customers tell me what they like and what they don’t like,” he said. “Nothing works if the customer is not happy.”

If things work out, he is thinking of opening a third Naked Greens in Fairfield County.

Information: nakedgreens.com or 203-529-3770.

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