A seed grown in Midtown
Brothers Lee and Daniel Novick on their healthy eating concept that’s changing the area’s lunch landscape
Brothers Lee Novick and Daniel Novick recently opened Good Seed, on 35th Street, with two other families, after working with their father, Howard Novick. Pictured left to right: Richard Greenstein, Howard Novick, Eric Portnoy, Daniel Greenstein, Ronnie Portnoy, Dayna Greenstein, Lee Novick and Daniel Novick.
“What are we going to each for lunch today?” became a question that Lee and Daniel Novick almost dreaded asking every day. The brothers worked in Midtown in their father Howard’s franchise business and saw the lack of healthy, high quality options for their lunch breaks, so decided to take matters into their own hands.
On March 20, they, along with two other families, opened Good Seed on 35th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. The restaurant specializes in plentiful salads and also offers what they call picnic baskets with hearty entrees like grilled salmon and herb-roasted chicken.
In the month they have been in business, Lee, 28, and Daniel, 26, have already been showered with positive feedback and say they are enjoying over a 40 percent repeat customer rate. “I can’t tell you, in the first couple weeks we were open and even still, how many people came into the store and say, ‘We have been waiting for a concept like this to open,’” said Daniel.How did the idea come about?
Lee: The background of this company is it’s a family business. And we’ve been involved in the food business and franchising for 10 years or so. The idea came about because we’re healthy people; we live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. And we wanted to do something that we were passionate about that was more than just going to work and trying to make money. We started developing this concept almost three years ago and we kept tweaking and evolving into bigger and better and I think we ended up with something really great.
Daniel: It kind of started from the question, “What are we going to eat for lunch today?” There never seemed to be a really good answer that people really enjoyed and thought was really healthy. It felt like we had to pick one or the other. We wanted to do something that had both.Explain your dad’s history in the food business.
Daniel: Our dad was in the hospitality industry for about 20 years and then he sold the business in 2003 and then a couple of years later, met his now-partner, Rich [Greenstein], and they decided to go into the Dunkin’ Donuts business together. So our business for the last 10 years has been primarily Dunkin’ Donuts. And a few years ago, we opened a handful of Smashburger franchises.
There are three families involved in running the business. What is the structure like?
Daniel: As things come up, we kind of just know who would be the best at it and that person just takes it and runs with it. Lee was involved very much in the lead on building the store, developing the concept and getting the store to completion. And organizing everything that goes into it, from deciding which [point of sale] system we are going to use, to the dimensions of the line. Whereas, I’m more of a numbers guy. Dayna [Greenstein], part of one of the other families, is more on the creative side. Everyone has their own role, even though it’s not formal.What made you choose that location?
Lee: We have two offices, air quotes for the word “office,” because they’re basically built-out mezzanines above our Dunkin’ Donuts locations. One is on 40th and one on 39th Street, both in that area. That’s where we are every day and where our Dunkin’ Donuts business is mainly based out of and that’s where we felt there was a big need for this type of concept. Because there are so many people working around there. We see everyone from people in suits and ties to artists to young advertising professionals to tourists. And there’s the same question every day, “Where should we go to eat?” And we think we fill that void pretty well. It just felt right to fill a need in a neighborhood that we feel strongly about how great it is. Key elements are just missing from it.Take us through the menu planning.
Daniel: We have a husband and wife and they’ve been in the food industry a long time. In the couple of years that we were developing this concept, they came in every so often and brought us ideas of different things they wanted to try. We knew it was going to be salads, but we didn’t always know exactly what each dish was going to look like. So they brought in all kinds of creative stuff. We didn’t know what was going to be on the menu besides salads, so we went through a lot of different ideas with them. They’re very creative people and excellent chefs. Everything that they make is delicious.
Lee: We also are the market and demographic that we’re trying to serve, so it was a little easier because we knew what we were looking for and couldn’t find. We wanted salads you would find at a nice restaurant for dinner, but accessible for people for lunch at a price they could afford. And something we always come back to is that healthy means different things for different people. Some people might be looking for something under 400 calories, some people might be looking for something to help them put on muscle mass. So we can provide people with a vegan grain-free salad or a hearty portion of grilled salmon with roasted cauliflower. We provide healthy no matter what your definition of healthy is. We also want it to be accessible to everyone, so you don’t have to each quote unquote healthy, but everything you eat here, including the pesto mac and cheese, their ingredients are high quality, not processed, and coming from the right places.What are the pros and cons to working with your brother?
Lee: I think working with Daniel is really easy because our skills complement each other very well. Like he said in the beginning, he’s more of a numbers guy and I kind of just go with my gut a lot. And in that sense, we balance each other out and combine to form a pretty good team. Because I’ll say, “Let’s just do it.” And he’ll say, “Let’s run the numbers.” And then we do and it makes sense or it doesn’t. And sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story and sometimes they do.
Daniel: I think because growing up together, we’ve known each other, literally, our entire lives. We have that chemistry where you know who should be doing what, when to back off, when the person might be feeling agitated or frustrated. Basically, when to push and when to hold back. You kind of just know that innately, in a way that you wouldn’t know with a normal coworker.What is something that surprised you about the business?
Lee: One thing that did surprise me was we’re not just salads, we have a picnic basket area, which is like a marketplace with a main and two sides. We just didn’t really know what to expect with that because we’ve been marketing ourselves as a healthy, delicious salad restaurant. And some of those picnic basket items are our most popular items and we can’t even keep them on the shelf. We’ve doubled production from the beginning to now on some of the items.What have been your bestsellers?
Daniel: It’s kind of been a surprise because we didn’t know what customers were going to want. I think the biggest surprise has been our Caribbean bowl. It’s our second bestseller, which I, personally, didn’t expect at all. That’s a bowl with black and wild rice, arugula, shaved coconut, mango, jerk chicken. Our picnic baskets as a whole have sold a lot. The roasted salmon and the grilled chicken have sold extremely well. The pesto mac and cheese people keep raving about.
Lee: Just to give you some context, the first day we were open, we made six trays of pesto mac and cheese. We’re making 16 now.
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