There are nearly as many theories about the origin of the salad bar as there are dressing choices at the end of the supposedly healthful buffet.
The Steak and Ale chain, described by Texas Monthly in 1975 as “the original steak-salad bar establishment,” took credit for coming up with the idea. So did Chuck’s Steakhouse, which opened in Waikiki in 1959, and The Freund’s Sky Club Supper Club, which opened in Stevens Point, Wis., in 1950. According to a recent story in The State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill., a restaurant there was running something called a salad bar as early as the 1940s.
What is clear is that RJ Grunt’s, a Chicago fern bar that spawned Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, was hugely influential in the salad bar sphere. On June 10, 1971, RJ Grunt’s unveiled its 40-item DIY salad station. Restaurants across the country imitated the set-up, including fast-food chains. Burger King in the 1980s tried to lure customers with a commercial featuring floating mushrooms and peas, according to a Bloomberg.com story.
“Every restaurant put a salad bar in their restaurant, addressing health concerns,” Harry Balzer, an analyst for research firm NPD, told the news service. “As time went on, every one of them pulled it out. Consumers weren’t willing to make salads at salad bars.”
In Charleston, the salad bar’s heyday was ushered in by Sprouts & Krauts in Marion Square Mall, which stood on the King Street corner now occupied by Walgreens. Harry Waddington, Franz Meier and Christof Weihs, owners of The Colony House, opened the restaurant in the late 1970s. In its 2012 look back at Sprouts & Krauts, Charleston Magazine explained Waddington came up with the name, joking about the confluence of vegetables and businessmen of German descent.
“It was before its time,” Jack Limehouse of Limehouse Produce says. “You made your own salad.”
A promotional postcard for Sprouts & Krauts described the restaurant as “the great alternative,” offering “a fresh approach to dining” and “imaginative specials.”
In 1985, two years after Sprouts & Krauts opened a second location in Citadel Mall, a News and Courier critic visited the original restaurant. Although Christine Randall didn’t comment on the salad bar, she and her friend shared a vegetable plate featuring broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini and yellow squash “that simply had been steamed, leaving all seasoning to the diner’s discretion.” The remainder of their meal suggests how much the definition of healthy eating has changed in 30 years: They started with cream of potato soup, and then moved on to a crab quiche that measured one-quarter of a pie.
“I don’t think I’ve had a creamier quiche,” Randall wrote. “There was lots of gooey cheese. I would have preferred a little thinner crust, but the rest of the ingredients were so good that didn’t bother me much.”
For dessert, Randall and her dining companion had a slice of Huguenot torte and chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream.
“For healthy fast food at reasonable prices, Sprouts & Krauts can’t be beat,” she concluded.
Sprouts & Krauts closed in 1987.