It wasn’t until their third meeting together that Nick Marsh ’90, CEO of Chop’t Creative Salad Company, and Nancy Easton ’88, co-founder of the nonprofit Wellness in the Schools (WITS), realized they were both Princeton graduates. By then it a no brainer, Marsh said. They built an immediate trust and a partnership was born between the fast-growing salad company and Easton’s health and fitness nonprofit.
After graduating with a history degree, Marsh entered the food industry with a “coffee concept” he started. At the time, Starbucks and other food specialization companies were just getting started. “Coffee was moving from a deli counter material to a specialty experience,” Marsh said. “The importance of specialization really stuck with me.”
Marsh, in 2004, found that same specialized creativity in Chop’t when he invested in the business. He was especially interested in the company’s focus on working towards an understanding of the “next generation of fast food.”
“Eating healthy was choosing packaged food that said light or low-fat on it,” Marsh said. “At that time, people thought it was crazy to open a restaurant that just sold salad.”
Over the past few years, though, Americans’ relationship with food has transformed, he said. From food shows on TV to former first lady Michelle Obama ’85’s campaigns, consumers expressed an interest in knowledge in healthy eating.
Chop’t, founded in 2001, now has 52 restaurants across the East Coast. The company wants to “continue to serve a broader audience,” Marsh said, because the latest health trends haven’t fully been spread across the country. Chop’t wants to fill that gap. “Our fundamental belief is that better food and better nutrition can’t be constrained to specific areas or specific demographics, it needs to be universal and we have to help push in that direction,” Marsh said.
Easton learned about Chop’t from one of the company’s employees who happened to be a parent at her child’s school. WITS was in eight schools at the time, working towards expanding to 20, and Chop’t agreed to sponsor the program. The nonprofit brings chefs and coaches into public schools to rewrite lunch menus and create healthier recess periods. Now, WITS is in four states and over 120 schools.
“Where systemic change comes in is that we have a long term goal that we are teaching children habits to help them develop a lifetime of better health,” Easton said.
Easton was a varsity athlete at Princeton and was always thinking about food; she and her roommates in Spellman took turns cooking dinner for each other every night.
“When I first started this work, we were definitely the crazy people,” Easton said. Now, when people ask Easton how she knows that she’s making a difference, she tells them, “I know because I’m no longer crazy.”
Together, Chop’t and WITS help one another to improve health education and resources across the country. As a component of their training, Chop’t managers volunteer at a WITS school while the founders commit to speaking engagements throughout the year. Chop’t, in addition to financially supporting WITS, helps share the message and awareness of the nonprofit through in-store branding.
The common bond is tackling challenges around food and nutrition — and “there are different ways of fighting towards the same goal,” Marsh said. “We found a way in two very different arenas to really try to work on the same thing.”