Fast Casual Insights: Hale and Hearty Discusses Their New App

We sat down with the Hale and Hearty team to learn more about their brand origins, dig into their mobile marketing strategy, and get a sneak peek into what’s next for the growing fast casual brand.

Before we get started, could you give us some insight into how Hale and Hearty got its start in the big city?

It was 1996 when we first opened as Hale and Hearty Soups. Our first location was at 63rd and Lex. We made the soup from scratch, as we do today, but on a much smaller scale – in a kitchen in the back of the store. We were NYC pioneers – aside from some of the better delis and the “Soup Nazi” (the Seinfeld episode was actually based on a real person with a one-off shop across town) there wasn’t much to compare us to. We came in and filled the gap with a quick, high quality lunch in a cup that was easy to eat, hot, and satisfying. Within two years we had to move our production kitchen to our third store at Chelsea Market to meet demand.

How has the New York’s palate evolved over the almost two decades that Hale and Hearty has been around?

Well our goal has always been to make clean, classic comfort food, but even from within our category we take note of trends and listen to our guests. Over the past few years we’ve introduced more vegetarian soups, more gluten free, more soups with super-ingredients like kale, included plant based proteins like edamame and quinoa on the salad bar, and we’ve also introduced some fun and innovative new soup varieties like Broken Lasagna, which is unbelievably delicious. The latest trend is kind of a non-trend, people are more informed about provenance so everyone looks for the freshest food options. Our veggies come from the farm, literally in a wood crate, with the stems and peels still on and are cut the day they’re cooked. We make our own stock every day, using only hormone free chicken. There’s a movement now of doing business locally, which we always have – our sausage comes from a NYC shop that’s been operating since the 1920s, we don’t buy frozen ingredients from some huge company hundreds of miles away. So the latest ideas of how and what people want to eat are right in line with our practices.

It seems like 2014 is the year of the fast casual, a space you helped found almost 20 years ago. How does Hale and Hearty plan to stay cutting edge and relevant to an increasingly demanding audience?

We’re learning more all the time about what makes our guests happy. Stores that are easier to navigate, more grab and go options, ways to make the lines move faster, and more information available to our guests about our sourcing. Our Executive Chef, Bruce Rogers, is originally from Brooklyn but now lives upstate, where he has access to these amazing farm stands and markets that are really inspiring. So look for more salad toppings with seasonal relevance, more salad dressings, which we make from scratch with no preservatives, new sandwiches and of course more new soups, we are constantly introducing new soups. Bruce has created around 500 soup recipes over the years. We tend to innovate in parallel to and also ahead of certain trends.

Why did Hale and Hearty choose the smartphone as a primary method of engaging your customers over more traditional methods like the paper punch card?

We gave out paper stamp cards for years. We’ve always placed importance on engaging our guests and showing them they’re valued. But the paper cards were limited – a free 11th soup or salad is a great deal, but what about guests who eat a sandwich every day, or add chips, treats, or drinks? What about guests who lose their partially stamped card, or put it through the wash? This was one reason. Another is our line, which in cold weather is out the door – a deterrent to business and a major inconvenience to our guests. Smartphone payment is fast and frictionless. One touch payment and loyalty, bam.

What are your goals for the recently-launched Hale and Hearty app?

For our guests to use it, and for them to get good value, and keep coming back. We created fun loyalty tiers and have sourced some great gifts to go along with them, so we hope to see a lot of consistency. We added as many features as we could in terms of menus, a location finder, invite a friend, and down the road, we’re excited to potentially add things like gift cards, pick up and delivery orders too.

Why did you decide to work with LevelUp to build your app?

Seth’s ninja moves! Actually, we were approached by many companies, but their apps didn’t include payment – just something fun, like push notifications of menus for nearby stores, but nothing really robust. We also looked for solutions for loyalty, like the plastic cards you get at the drugstore. We didn’t see a reason why we’d take such a small step and swap paper for plastic, the guest is still looking in their wallet, still paying with one hand, getting their card out with the other, and balancing their soup on their arm… So LevelUp offered us a really elegant solution.

What can we expect from Hale and Hearty in the next 12-24 months?

There’s a lot going on at Hale and Hearty – it’s a really exciting time! We’re about to open a new store, our 32nd, with a brand new design that includes classic Hale elements, but in a fresh, new way. We can’t wait to see our guests’ reactions! Expect more recipes, we’re constantly introducing more variety. We’ll be running the Chef Series again in the new year, and we’ve got some amazing chefs on board. But the biggest news is that in January, we’ll be opening our first Boston store! We are so thrilled to be moving into this amazing culinary city – and your hometown! Stop by when we open! We’d love to hear your thoughts on our chowder.

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Jackie Cooke

Jackie Cooke

Jacqueline Cooke is the Marketing Communications Manager at LevelUp. She's a firm believer in the power of avocado toast and chocolate chip banana pancakes. When she’s not trying out LevelUp partner restaurants (hello, Dig Inn!) you can find her dreaming up travel plans, trying out a new workout class or listening to her laundry list of podcasts.

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