While on a spring break in the Bahamas, John Robertson became inspired by a local chef creating custom-made salads as he was bellowing, “Get your salads, get your sexy salads here!”
Roberston felt he was on to something. At that moment in 1983, he came up with a great name for his future restaurant.
“I just thought that was brilliant,” recalls Robertson, who held on to the idea for two decades until he opened The Sexy Salad in Hauppauge 15 years ago. “I said, ‘That’s the place I’m going to open.’”
While the alliterative name sounds whimsical, Robertson spent 20 years seriously studying the industry before opening up shop, to ensure his childhood dream would be a success. But he’s done more than just thrive. Robertson is now plotting his expansion.
“We would really like to be the food company for all of Hauppauge Industrial Park,” he says. “If I can be a full service, a one call, right in the heart of the [HIP], it’ll be a home run.”
As the name suggests, they started out serving salads, soups, paninis and the like. Now, their menu has grown to the point that they have theme days such as Taco Tuesdays, a build-you-own-potato bar and much more. Robertson recently opened Build a Burger next door and plans to open restaurants nearby focused on various cuisines, such as a Mexican grill and an Asian eatery.
He got a big boost when he was accepted into the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Program, which helps upstarts as passionate as Robertson to hone their business acumen by training with experts from the Wharton Business School and Babson College, and meet industry leaders.
The shop also drew national headlines in 2016 when a drunk broke in, ate a dozen bananas and passed out on the floor of The Sexy Salad before fleeing the scene. “The Banana Burglar,” as he became known, was later turned in, but Robertson declined to press charges after the thief paid restitution. Still, the quirky case drew even more attention to his shop.
While he’s thankful that his success gives him the opportunity to donate to charities such as the Morgan Center and Island Harvest, he also gets excited thinking about what’s next.
“Wilbur Wright was asked, ‘Where do you see the airplane industry going?’” Robertson says. “He said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s going to be spectacular.’ And The Sexy Salad is going to be absolutely spectacular, too.”