There was a celebratory atmosphere Tuesday night at the new Hill Center Brentwood location of Chopt Creative Salad Co., a fast-casual restaurant that prides itself on fresh, healthy food.

Guests gathered amid live music and balloons, sampling a cornucopia of crisp salads in anticipation of the restaurant’s imminent opening.

Chopt’s first day of business in Brentwood is technically Thursday, Feb. 8. It will be open Wednesday, Feb. 7, though, at select times for a special Chopt Gives event to benefit The Nashville Food Project.

From 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and again from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, visitors to Chopt will receive a free salad if they donate to the Nashville Food Project.

Chopt was started in New York 17 years ago by two friends, Tony Shure and Colin McCabe.

Since that time the restaurant has expanded beyond the borders of New York into neighboring states and then south to places like Virginia and North Carolina.

The Brentwood store is the chain’s 53rd. It is also the company’s “southernmost and westernmost location,” Shure said Tuesday night.

A location close to Nashville had long been on the co-founders’ minds. Shure recalled a fateful road trip he and McCabe took in 1998 that was instrumental to their future success.

On that trip Shure and McCabe came up with the business plan for Chopt while stopping in a number of cities they had always wanted to visit. One of those cities was Nashville. It has always stuck in their minds. So when they were looking for a next area to expand in, the choice seemed natural.

“We saw Nashville as as a town really on the rise,” Shure said. “Everybody’s feeling Nashville right now. From tech people to just people who like to travel…and the food scene here is intensely good. We came down to look at Nashville and it was a no brainer. While there were amazing restaurants that were feeding everybody well, there was a place in the market for our type of food.”

Shure is passionate when he talks about Chopt’s food, as he readily admits.

“We’re intense about our food,” he said. “Really the heart of the whole organization is the quality of the ingredients we buy and the creativity of the combinations.”

The quality of ingredients is especially important for Chopt because all of the food the restaurant serves is prepared in house. There is no middle man cooking the food.

“All the food is made from scratch,” Shure said. “All of our dressings are homemade. Nothing comes from a can.” That freshly-made ethos extends to items like Chopt’s in-house dressings and teas.

In that way, Shure thinks Chopt is right at home in the land of southern cuisine.

“It’s slow cooking,” he said. “I think that’s very southern…We don’t take shortcuts at all.”

The creativity is apparent on Chopt’s menu in a number of different ways, one of which is the restaurant’s focus on incorporating elements of international cuisine.

“One of the things we‘ve done since the beginning is every two months we have a destination we highlight in the world,” Shure said. “We represent it through food.”

Vietnam is Chopt’s present destination. That means traditional staples like banh mi and Vietnamese meatballs get incorporated into the Chopt menu for 60 days.

“It’s a dialogue that we try and keep with our community,” Shure said. “Very often you only get an hour for lunch, maybe we can transport you and give you flavors made from pantry items from Vietnam or Mexico. And hopefully we can bring a helluva lot of life to fast food.” 

One of Chopt’s biggest fans is also an investor in the restaurant.

Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray first tried Chopt while traveling.

“I travel to New York sometimes so one day I was looking for lunch before a flight and ran into Chopt,” Murray said Tuesday night.

He immediately fell in love with the restaurant’s salads. So much so that he decided to try to get in touch with one of the owners.

“I was so enthused about the salad that I wanted to get one in Nashville,” Murray said.

He ended up meeting with McCabe and suggested the company expand to Nashville. Murray learned that this was an idea already under consideration. The timing was perfect.

Murray thinks that Chopt is leading the way when it comes to providing what today’s restaurant customers want.

“The tide is turning toward healthy eating,” he said.

Chopt gives customers the opportunity to eat healthily, Murray said, while at the same time offering a satisfying meal. He has often heard from big guys who like the idea of a salad but worry that it is not filling enough. Murray said that Chopt salads check both those boxes.

Chopt is the last restaurant tenant to move into the newer part of the Hill Center Brentwood development. Shure said that Hill Center Brentwood provided an ideal location for his company.

He feels that Chopt will fit right in with the surrounding businesses and restaurants. 

“You can go big at Holler & Dash for breakfast and make up for it with lunch at Chopt,” Shure said with a smile. 

Chopt shows no signs of slowing down on the national level. Another location is set to open soon in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

For now, though, the focus is on Tennessee and getting the new store up and running. Shure is optimistic.

“Nashville just felt right,” he said.

Starting Thursday, Feb. 8 Chopt’s Hill Center Brentwood location hours will be Monday through Friday 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Saturday 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.