You’d never know that Ronnie Hall would become The Salad Boss.
Nothing in the founder’s resume would have given you a clue — as recently as a year ago — that he was going to open a health-conscious eatery inside the YMCA in Fort Lauderdale, in the middle of the Sistrunk Boulevard neighborhood.
“I was in corporate America for 17 years,” says Hall, who is also a Navy veteran. “I just kind of got burned out with what I was doing. I just wanted to be a boss myself. I never thought I would be here.”
“Here” is a brightly hued, fast-casual restaurant with a tightly focused menu of salads, wraps, sandwiches and smoothies. There are also breakfast and kids’ menus. Next door is the BSTYLE lounge, a bonus space for patrons with what Hall describes as something more akin to a speakeasy vibe that also stays open late. Initially, the idea was to add a cyber cafe component there.
“I thought, well, we can do that but let’s add some flavor to it,” recalls the 39-year-old Fort Lauderdale native. “I wanted to … have a place where you’re just eating salads and wraps and smoothies — because there’s a different menu on that side — but it gives you a different opportunity to chill, relax, and it’s not too loud. It’s a real relaxing focus and vibe. … You can play cards. You can play Uno. You can binge-watch a favorite show maybe.”
All of this is in front of the resplendent L.A. Lee YMCA/Mizell Community Center, a $20 million, four-story building that opened in 2021.
“This area was becoming a food desert, creating an obvious need,” says Sheryl A. Woods, president and CEO of YMCA of South Florida. “Healthy Living is one of the primary areas of focus at the YMCA of South Florida, and bringing healthy food options such as Salad Boss to this community aligns perfectly with that philosophy.”
She adds, “To best serve the Sistrunk community, it was important for us to identify a minority-owned
business that was invested in this community and shared the same passion for it as we do.”
Hall, who is the founder and CEO of The Salad Boss Inc., lives in the Sistrunk community, just a few blocks from his new businesses, with his two sons — Jamauri Hall, 15, and Dayton Hall, 12 — and his girlfriend, Samantha Ottley, an accountant who serves as the restaurant’s chief operating officer.
“Samantha has given me her fullest support while maintaining a business of her own,” he says. “She is always coming up with amazing ideas to take the company to the next level. She has said since the beginning that she sees great things for this company. When I’ve had doubts, she’s kept my head up, when I’ve had uncertainties, she’s provided reassurance.”
Here is more about The Salad Boss from an interview with Hall, edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: What made you want to open The Salad Boss?
A: Last year I was going through some health matters which made me have a wake-up call and say, “Hey, you need to pay more attention to what it is that you’re putting into your body.” So I started doing that, kind of toying with different recipes and different types of salads, taco salad, salmon salads. And as I was doing this at home, I just started posting on social media. So that is the why, taking taking care of me first and foremost. And I have two young boys who look up to me and I have to a better model citizen for them. You can put on nice clothes, nice shoes, but if you’re not taking care of your body, first and foremost, you’re not doing yourself any justice.
Q: I know you started doing healthy-salads catering through a commercial kitchen, getting clients via word of mouth and social media a little less than a year ago. What was your first big culinary hit that made you even consider opening a brick-and-mortar?
A: I have a tuna salad and I can’t keep it in stock. It’s just tuna fish. I added mayo and some relish. But you can go to any other restaurant and it’s just not going to taste the same. It’s just not. I’ve done my market research by going to different places and — not knocking them — they are good, but they don’t compare.
Q: What made you decide to open at the YMCA?
A: I spoke to this gentleman here named Sonny (Meuze, director of operations), kind of asking him about the place … I had a real estate agent at the time and we were kind of looking at different areas. But I knew I wanted to be close to here because we’re underserved when it comes to healthy food … So I spoke with Sonny and he said, “They are very specific. They want a healthy food.” … I can’t have grease, a deep-fryer or something like that. And I’m saying salads and things like that.
Q: What has surprised you about this location?
A: One thing about being here is, because I’m graduate of Dillard High School, I didn’t realize how much of a village I had. The little nuggets that other restaurant owners have come in and shared constructive criticism. You know, you eat the chicken and spit out the bones. I’ll take bits and pieces of it. I didn’t expect to have so many people welcome me with open arms and say, “Hey, welcome to the neighborhood. Here’s some suggestions.” Or “You’re doing great. I love what you’re doing. Keep at it.”
Q: Where did the name Salad Boss come from?
A: It was pushing entrepreneurship to my boys. I’m very hands-on with them. I was always telling them, “Be your own boss.” And then I just paired that with the items I was making, the salads, and I was like, “Oh, this is dope.” My slogan is: Be the change that you want to see. I want to see our people healthier. I looked on Uber Eats trying to find something and there was nothing healthy, there wasn’t like a salad restaurant within a 5-plus-mile radius at the time. And we got so many schools and middle schools and hospitals in this surrounding area. I want to see people stopping and saying, “I was headed to McDonald’s … I was headed to Burger King, but you know what? Let me get a salad.” And it’s happening. So even if that one person comes in, I’ve done my part. I’ve had the naysayers (ask) why did I put it on Sistrunk? To which I say, why not? Be the change you want to see.
The Salad Boss is located in the L.A. Lee YMCA/Mizell Community Center at 1409 NW Sixth St., Fort Lauderdale. For information on the restaurant, call 954-314-7321 or go to thesaladbossftl.com.