In 2005, Leslie Silverglide, A&S '02, Engr '02, and her husband, David, A&S '99, co-founded a casual restaurant called MIXT, featuring fresh, locally sourced ingredients in salads, sandwiches, and grain bowls. Little did the couple know that offering chef-quality ingredients in a fast-paced environment would soon become a trend nationwide.
MIXT has since expanded across the West Coast and into Arizona and Texas, with sights set on becoming a nationally recognized brand. In the meantime, Silverglide also co-founded Wello, a fitness technology company that matches clients with fitness professionals over live two-way video; she sold Wello to Weight Watchers International in 2014.
Here, Leslie Silverglide talks about the benefits of running your own business, what has made MIXT successful, and the advice she'd give to every founder.
How did you get the idea for MIXT?
While I was working on my master's at Oxford University, David and I would eat at this famous church that had a restaurant in the garden. They made these delicious salads with fresh, local ingredients. In 2004, after graduating, we knew we wanted to work together and began talking about ideas for businesses. Once back in the States, we realized that we couldn't find something similar here. So we said, "What if we started a salad restaurant that had amazing fresh ingredients, allowed people to customize their salads to their tastes, and integrated environmental sustainability into every aspect of the operation?"
What was it like to open the first MIXT location?
It was both fun and nerve-wracking. The first day we opened, we had no clue whether anyone would show up. We were shocked to find a line of people waiting! There was tremendous excitement about MIXT because no one had seen a fast-casual restaurant with fine dining ingredients. There was a lot of pent-up demand.
How did you build the confidence required to launch a restaurant brand without having done it before?
We were young—in our 20s—so we didn't have much to lose. We thought, "Why not try to do something different?" MIXT allowed us to combine so many of our passions. And it really was a lot of fun: You start with nothing and turn that into an idea.
So many businesses fail. What do you believe has made MIXT successful so far?
The key is the amount of care, detail, and attention we put into our products. We prep everything in house, from scratch. There's a chef-y quality to our menu, too; people don't think of "craveworthy" and "salad" in the same breath, but we aim for exactly that.
What has been the hardest part of launching MIXT?
The pandemic. As much as we could plan for worst case scenarios, we didn't envision this. It's thrown us for a loop several times over. Leading a company during so much uncertainty has been a huge challenge. We immediately started offering free meals to people in need and frontline workers. We had to make significant layoffs, but over time, we were able to offer jobs back to everyone. One of the hardest parts was maintaining direction and positivity with so much uncertainty and fear, but what has kept us going is maintaining a strong entrepreneurial spirit and focusing on our team members. In the end, we are very thankful to have survived when a lot of restaurant companies didn't.
What do you enjoy most about running a business?
I love working through problems, and that's my job every day! It's always different. Also, being able to work with a diverse and interesting set of people has opened my eyes. It makes what we do meaningful, every day.
Tell me about your journey into entrepreneurship. When you were younger, did you imagine you'd end up running your own business?
Ironically, I thought business would be the last place I would ever land. But I've started two companies! Entrepreneurship is absolutely the place I belong. It's been incredible to push the envelope every day.
If you could give advice to a new business owner, what would you tell them?
Stop thinking about your idea and start testing it. It doesn't matter what your product is. Start talking to people and see what their reactions are. That's when you can see what's there. And I mean getting outside feedback—not just feedback from the people who are close to you, who will tell you that what you're doing is great. You want real people to share real feedback.