W hen Travis Pittman, founder and owner of The Salad Palace, thinks back to the beginning, he gets a little emotional. “Wow,” he says, “I gotta dig deep.”
Pittman was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare form of cancer, in 2012. “I was out of work because I had to do radiation five days a week for six weeks,” he says. “So I had a lot of time on my hands to study.” His chosen subject was food. After a lifetime of nutritional apathy, Pittman says the diagnosis inspired a “spiritual transformation” that left him dedicated to clean eating.
Around the same time, a friend in Birmingham, Alabama, had started a business delivering salads in her community, and Pittman was struck by the idea. “I told her she should call her business ‘The Salad Palace,’” he says. “I gave it to her.” A few months later, when Pittman was recovering from his illness and preparing to go back to work, his conscience spoke to him. “It said, ‘That was for you.’” So Pittman became the owner of a salad spot—at least on paper.
It was another year before The Salad Palace would become fully fledged. Its home is a small white building in Hamden with slick green castle decals on the windows. Inside, a marigold chalk board lists the menu, which Pittman concocted. Most of the items, including salads, juices and smoothies, are vegetarian and many are vegan. A diet-expanding menu of “add-ons” includes bee pollen, sea moss, maca and spirulina, among others.
Pittman says when he first started to become interested in wellness, he was struck by the absence of affordable, convenient food that was full of nutrients. “I was trying to find something to support my diet,” he says, “but there was nothing to eat on the run.” The Salad Palace hopes to fill that niche, and Pittman says they do a brisk delivery business in addition to in-store traffic.
Pittman’s wife and business partner, Nani Pittman, whipped up The Survivor ($5.49) for me, a smoothie with spinach, banana, honey, rice milk and moringa. Travis leapt behind the bar to throw in a few exotic extras—bladderwrack and sea moss. Travis claims that, together, the witchy-sounding ingredients offer all of the minerals humans need.
The smoothie was pleasingly green, smooth and sweet without being cloying, but my palate isn’t ready for sea moss; I eventually found its flavor overpowering. Travis and Nani say two of the most popular items on the menu are the Infinity’s Delight salad ($9.99)—a bed of kale topped with red onions, walnuts, strawberries and mango—and two juices, Imhotep’s Potion ($6.99, named after the ancient Egyptian Travis calls “the father of medicine”), which includes cilantro and turmeric, and the Get Well Soon ($5.99), which is made with carrots, parsley, celery, ginger and apple.
That last one reflects a core conviction behind The Salad Palace: Recovery is just around the corner. Travis is mindful of the health challenges that his customers or their loved ones might be facing. “One thing I’m big on here is energy. We gotta have a lot of positive energy,” he says. “Because everyone’s going through something. Whenever someone comes in here, you never know whose bedside they just left.”
Pittman’s short-term expansion plan, involving a second location and a food truck, jibe with his business philosophy. “For the young kids coming up that wanna start businesses, you have to just do it,” he says. “You don’t come to swim and then stick your toe in the water to see if it’s cold. You just jump in that pool and just swim.”
The same goes for clean eating. “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he says. “You would never know how phenomenal a green juice is until you try it.”
Written and photographed by Sorrel Westbrook.