The future look and feel of sandwich shops could very well be traced to the opening of Pickleman’s in Park Place last September.
“Park Place was a pivot point for us,” Pickleman’s Creative Director Kendall Pearl says. “We were trying to be ahead of trends coming to Kansas City. People want high protein diets and a lot of vegetables.”
In 2014, Pickleman’s debuted three new salads, a trio of dressings and a vegetarian chili – all designed to meet customer demand for higher protein, lower calorie options. It was a big addition for the nine-year-old chain, which launched with only 19 menu items (soup, sandwiches and pizza) at its original location in Columbia, Missouri.
Pickleman’s has been subtly changing its menu over the past few years to adapt to the way its customers are eating. In 2012, they introduced the ‘Pick 2’ concept, where diners could match a half-sandwich with a soup or half-salad.
“A lot of what we do is based on feedback from our customers,” Pearl says. “We used Kansas City as a sounding board. We asked what people thought of our salads and a lot of women said they thought our salad lineup was a little bit like guys made all our salads.”
The changes started with Pickleman’s base salad. They swapped in spinach for iceberg lettuce. You can now pick spinach or romaine -- heads of lettuce are brought in each morning and chopped onsite.
“We don’t pre make any of our salads,” Pearl says. “Our veggies are prepped to order, so we can customize everything.”
The three new salads are the Avo-Cabb, Southwest and Walnut Cran. The Avo-Cobb has sliced Haas avocados, a hard-boiled egg, crumbled bacon, tomato, cheddar cheese and croutons. The Southwest swaps in corn, beans, and red onions for the bacon and eggs in the Avo-Cobb. The Walnut Cran has walnuts, cranberries, blue cheese and a hardboiled egg. While they were tweaking the salads, Pickleman’s also looked at its dressing lineup.
“Ranch is great on everything, but it’s got a lot of fat in it,” Pearl says. “We needed something that fit in with our salads well.”
The yogurt ranch swaps in plain yogurt for the mayonnaise used with the traditional Ranch dressing. Pickleman’s added a lemon balsamic and balsamic vinaigrette dressing at the same time. All the dressings are made in house.
In addition to the new salads and dressings, Pickleman’s also created a vegetarian lentil chili. It’s made with brown lentils, chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeno peppers and chiles.
“It’s really hearty,” area manager Keith Royer says. “It’s good. It’s got a little big of kick, a little bit of tang.”
Beyond looking at their menu, the sandwich shop is also trying to take a mindful approach to its packaging. They recently switched to a biodegradable bowl for salads.
“If you look at the number of salads that one location makes, that’s a hefty carbon footprint,” Royer says. “This is one way for us to cut down on that.”
“We knew that as a group buying for 19 restaurants, we have some buying power,” Pearl adds. “As we try to consolidate our packaging, there will be some additional costs. But we look at what Chipotle has done with so many of its products and we think we can be a company doing it the right way.”
Pickleman’s is in the midst of adding two stores. The first will likely open in Omaha, Nebraska, while another is underway in the Westport area. The menu will feature more vegetarian items with a veggie pizza likely in the works.
“Kansas city is full of great and inspiration. It’s unique in that it has respect for food, family and culture,” Pearl says. “We just want to keep listening to what people have to say.”
Pearl is also helping to overhaul online ordering and the eatery’s app with Facebook integration, larger photos and a loyalty program. The new services will likely roll out this summer.
“We fall in a unique position in the quick service space in that we can order delivery of customized salads,” Pearl says. “ We see more and more customers leaning toward that set-up.”