Emma Dye

Chopping It Up with CRISP

WORDS Byron Beck  PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden

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Emma Dye is the Founder of Crisp Salads NW where bunnies eat for “free” and vegans, keto-fans, paleo-tologists and bacon lovers all thrive (and eat) in tasteful harmony.

A Martha Stewart of salads (Crisp also offers soups, wraps and cookies) Emma has made it her mission to offer the best chopped salads in the city where you can feel good about what you’re eating, and have a good time doing it too.

Portland’s Interview Magazine had a chance to catch up with the “Chief Salad Officer” of this local chop shop about her crispy biz. Here is what she had to say.

Can you tell me about the concept of Crisp?
I was inspired by other chopped-to-order salad restaurants across the country when I used to travel all the time for work (Emma sold medical equipment that required a lot of travel). Both my husband, Kirt, and I have always loved a chopped salad as you get a little bit of everything in every bite. They’re also WAY easier to eat – have you ever tried to cut through huge pieces of lettuce or big circles of tomato at your desk or in your car? Chopping does take a little more time so we’ve put a lot of thought and effort into speeding up the process so our customers can still have that experience without having to wait longer than at other counter service restaurants. Plus, it’s FUN to watch your salad being chopped right in front of you!

How did you become involved with Crisp?
While I was traveling, I had to be very thoughtful about how to eat healthy while on the road. In addition to bringing a LOT of my own food…I would research where to eat. Salad restaurants became a favorite find, especially because I could design my own salad based on how I was eating at the moment. I could always make something delicious that I also felt good about putting in my body. I started thinking, “Someone should open a chopped salad restaurant in Portland!”

Do you remember the first time you made a salad?
Not so much the salad as home-made salad dressings. In 2011 I read Kimberly Snyder’s book, “The Beauty Detox.” It took my wanting to eat real, whole foods to another level. When I started reading labels more carefully, I was unpleasantly surprised at the unnatural, and unnecessary, ingredients in a lot of different foods but especially in store bought salad dressings! Her book had a few dressings that were just so simple to make and yet so incredibly flavorful. (Crisp’s) Basil Lover’s and our Caesar were both inspired by her recipes.

What is your favorite salad to make for yourself?
The Emma’s Detox of course! But I also often eat what our current special, seasonal salad is at the moment. In February we do a Pizza Mia salad with natural pepperoni; it’s like pizza in a bowl — with WAY less carbs!

What is your favorite salad to make for others?
Our Roasted & Toasted. It’s our secret salad as we don’t advertise it on the menu at Crisp, but it is listed on our online ordering page. It’s got roasted Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and yam with toasted hazelnuts. It’s a great side for most any meal; if I want to make it THE meal, I’ll add bacon & egg to it.

Do you think Portland is a good city for your type of restaurant?
Wouldn’t have opened it if I didn’t think so! I love our city and the diverse eaters we have – I don’t know of another city that seems to have such a high number of vegans AND such a love of bacon! Seriously though, folks in Portland care about the quality of our food but we also care about the well-being of the people making and serving our food. I love that we are able to serve REAL food and still pay our team above a living wage.

Can you tell me what community means to you as a business owner?
Creating a space where people, from employees to customers to vendors, feel welcomed, joyful and appreciated no matter their food or life choices.

What is the best part of your job?
So much of the day to day is business related stuff but I love when we get to come up with a new salad or dressing; everything from what goes in it to what we’re going to call it! (I also like) meeting people who truly appreciate and ‘get’ what we are trying to make and do. It’s always fun meeting customers who are so excited they found us! Recently, we catered for an office where the manager was thrilled she was able to provide ‘salad bar style’ for 35 people – a few were vegan, some are doing keto, several were gluten free and together we were able to make everyone happy!

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Owning a restaurant is not as financially rewarding as many may think. Nationally, the average profit margin in restaurants is about 5 percent. That means 95 percent of what restaurants take in as revenue goes into the food, the employees, the rent and everything else that comes with running the place. Unexpected expenses like repairs can eat away any meager savings. I must watch every expenditure like a hawk! Making sure we stay financially viable is the most stressful part of owning a restaurant – at least for me.

What do you do for fun when you are not in the kitchen?
We have a great network of friends so socializing – get-togethers at friends’ houses where we play poker is one of my favorite things to do. As is wine tasting. And then curling up on the couch binge watching our favorite shows is also a great stress reliever!  

What makes a good salad?
When designing a salad, it’s important to balance the ingredients; round out crunchy with soft, acidic with healthy fats, a bit of spice with something creamy or even a little sweet. One of my favorite toppings is our feisty walnuts – they are a little sweet & a little spicy plus they add extra crunch and awesome flavor to our Southern Fried Chicken although they can of course be added to any salad. A beautiful salad is a master class in contrasts.  

Are there exciting events coming up we should know about?
We’re thrilled to be participating in Walk Williams Wednesdays which will be the 2nd Wednesday of every month through October. At Crisp, our Sunshine Bowl will be only $5 AND we’ll have real live therapy bunnies on-site EVERY Wednesday (weather permitting) 5:30 to 8 pm. And rabbits eat for free at Crisp – we donate all of our bunny edible compost to our wonderful friends at Bunnies in Baskets.