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How Tender Greens Turned Its Suppliers Into Investors The growing fast-casual chain Tender Greens used ingenuity, deal-making and vision to build a new kind of supply chain.

By Elizabeth G. Dunn

This story appears in the July 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Alvaro Dominguez

In 2003, before "fast casual" became restaurant industry buzzwords, Erik Oberholtzer, Matt Lyman and David Dressler had an idea: combine high-end ingredients with fast-food efficiency. They bet that this would differentiate their company, Tender Greens, and customers would be willing to pay a little extra for quality food.

Related: Why Quality Over Quantity Matters When You're Scaling a Business

Sourcing those premium ingredients would be complicated, though. Most quick-­service restaurants use large distributors, which source from a network of farms and wholesalers -- a strategy designed to maximize scale efficiency. But those networks generally don't include the chef-to-farmer relationship -- and higher-quality ingredients -- Tender Greens wanted.

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