Saving the planet, one kitchen at a time. This is one of many mantras adopted by fast-casual restaurant Crushed Red, which serves up fresh, artisan chopped salads and hand-stretched-to-order individual-sized pizzas, operating under what co-founder and chief executive officer Chris LaRocca refers to as the “healthy halo.” The halo gives customers a distinct quality guarantee: Crushed Red offers organic dressings, tomato sauce and iced teas; fresh pizza dough is whole-grain; and the restaurant creates little waste by composting or recycling most products.

The restaurant has three St. Louis-area locations (Clayton, Kirkwood and Creve Coeur) and two locations in the Denver area, as well as locations in Columbia, Missouri, and Overland Park, Kansas. Ever-expanding, the company is opening two more St. Louis-area locations in Chesterfield and Edwardsville, Illinois, in March and July of 2017, respectively, and the company’s franchise partner in Denver has plans to open additional locations.

Crushed Red’s chef-driven experimental menu lends itself to some delectable, yet off-the-wall combinations, all with names that are crafted as cleverly as the ingredients that make up the whole – the “Yukon Gold Steakhouse” pizza is meat and potatoes on a crust: Parmesan cream pizza sauce topped with roasted potatoes, bacon, diced sirloin and blue cheese.

One ever-popular chopped salad, “This Pear is on Fire,” began as what the restaurant calls “LTOs,” or limited-time offerings. “We do [LTOs] to test new menu items and new ideas and, for people who come in a lot, to offer something new,” LaRocca says. “This was an LTO I put together a couple years ago – I wanted to do something that had some heat and sweet going on in the same dish.” In the salad, mixed greens are topped with chile pepper-dusted pears, candied walnuts, cranberries and a habanero-honey dressing. After a six- or seven-week run, LaRocca took the salad off the LTO menu, and the emails started pouring in. “One specifically said how devastated the individual was – the word ‘devastated’ was used,” LaRocca says, laughing. “We ran a promotion called ‘Bring Back the Pear’ to see how badly our guests really wanted it on the menu, and it’s been among our most popular salads ever since – it’s a permanent fixture on the menu.”

Customer feedback and satisfaction has been paramount to Crushed Red’s growth and success since its 2012 founding. Last year, LaRocca and his team rolled out Crushed Red Urban Crafted Catering to bring quality ingredients and menu design to customers’ lunch meetings or house parties, introducing – in addition to the restaurant’s signature pizza and salad – folded flats: warm, soft flatbread made out of Crushed Red’s renowned pizza dough, filled with premium toppings. Although not a regular menu item, the folded flats have grown in popularity since their debut, and as an answer to the overwhelmingly positive feedback, the restaurant’s new Chesterfield location, slated to open at the end of March, will offer folded flats and salads in a grab-and-go refrigerated case.

Beyond the tastefully inspired menu items, Crushed Red brings a unique ambiance to the idea of fast casual, offering a thoughtful and sophisticated craft beer and wine program in an inviting space, with happy-hour specials for the after-work crowd. In the age of on-trend fresh, artisan, fast-casual restaurants, Crushed Red is, as they say, crushing it.

Crushed Red, multiple locations, crushed-red.com

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