Wearing his personalized uniform of a black shirt, black athletic pants and white athletic shoes, Steele Smiley bounces between his company's headquarters and two of his restaurants, Crisp & Green and Stalk & Spade.
It's a routine Smiley uses to ensure his companies are running smoothly.
This strip along the 700 block of East Lake Street in Wayzata is especially important to 43-year-old Smiley. It's where he launched three franchises, including the former Steele Fitness franchise of boutique fitness studios.
And on Friday, he announced he is currently developing a third fast-casual restaurant — Paco & Lime, a Mexican-food themed, fast-casual restaurant that will open in January 2022 at 714 E. Lake Street, the same building where he launched Steele Fitness more than 15 years ago.
Paco & Lime is a health-focused concept like Crisp & Green and Stalk & Spade that Smiley said will improve on Chipotle's model of Mexican-themed dishes. It will use both meat and plant-based meats for burritos, bowls, tacos, tostadas, nachos. It also will serve margaritas, Smiley said.
By spring 2022, Smiley plans to add Paco & Lime locations throughout the Twin Cities, as well as expanding plant-based burger restaurant Stalk & Spade to more locations.
One street north of his restaurants on Mill Street is the corporate office of Steele Brands and roughly 6,000 square feet of occupied space in another building yards away that serves as Crisp & Green's headquarters. Between the restaurants and the office, Smiley has more than 200 employees working in Wayzata, making him one of the city's largest employers.
Smiley did not disclose the exact value of his companies.
He said he first settled on the Lake Street block in 2004 shortly after the former collegiate swimmer launched Steele Fitness, which he eventually expanded to seven locations across the Twin Cities, thousands of clients and nearly 100 employees.
Smiley initially opened Steele Fitness inside the Butler Square building in downtown Minneapolis, but the concept didn't work there.
Distraught over the direction his new venture, Smiley called his father in search of guidance. His father told him to visit Lake Minnetonka "and sit by the water and think about what you're going to do."
Smiley drove to Wayzata that day, parked his car at 714 Lake St. E. and found a bench. When he returned to his car, he noticed a "for lease" sign in the window of the building. He immediately called the number on the sign.
Three months later, he moved in.
From that 1,800-square-foot storefront, Smiley battled to relaunch his fitness brand. After a growing number of clients asked that he sell more athletic wear, he reconfigured the suite to add a full retail store. The first store sold items from Canadian sports clothing brand Lululemon.
In 2013, Smiley entered an alliance for an Under Armour store to be built next to every Steele Fitness. That same year, he sold his company to Chanhassen-based Snap Fitness and its private equity majority owner. Under the new umbrella company, Lift Brands, Smiley continued as one of the company's top executives, helping Snap expand to 2,500 locations in almost 30 countries.
While still working for Snap, Smiley applied his knowledge in franchising to his next venture, Crisp & Green, a fast-casual restaurant serving salads, grain bowls and smoothies. He opened the first location in 2016 in a former People's Organic location near that Steele Fitness on Lake.
Using proceeds from the Steel Fitness sale, Smiley acquired the assets of that Peoples Organic location and the lease. He did double duty while first setting up Crisp & Green, but eventually decided to resign from Snap. The transition would mean a sharp decline in personal income, but Smiley was confident he would build the business, especially given its location.
"We didn't have the concept figured out, and we didn't even have the name, but I knew this street could produce magic, and I knew if I had a good location, I could come up with something," Smiley said.
Crisp & Green has since grown to 100 stores either built or in development in 14 states. There were fewer than 10 locations in the Twin Cities in early 2020, but given the popularity of fast-casual dining during the pandemic, along with the convenience of digital ordering, Smiley quickly expanded using a franchise model.
In April, Smiley launched his third business, Stalk & Spade, on the same block in Wayzata in a former Starbucks across from the flagship Crisp & Green in a building owned by the same real estate company that leased Smiley the space for Steele Fitness.
Smiley said the business had to be located on Lake Street, or it wouldn't work.
"For a concept to work in my mind, it's got to be right under my nose," Smiley said. "I need to go there and live that lifestyle with that brand, every day. My concepts work because I'm a connoisseur of my businesses, and I use them every day of my life. Unless I can do that, I'm not going to guarantee its success."
The building at 714 E. Lake Street became vacant during the pandemic. Smiley seized an opportunity to occupy that space once more.
"It's too symbolic," Smiley said.
Redevelopment of the building is underway, including adding a 1,200-square-foot patio.
Smiley is also funding six art installations on the exterior walls of his buildings along Lake Street. Two are completed. Ideally, people will stop to admire and take photos of and in front of the art works, creating destinations on Lake Street, Smiley said.
"He's bringing a lot of good, talented people and thought into the community," Jeffrey Dahl, Wayzata's city manager, said. "It creates an innovative and positive atmosphere. The uses he's brought to the community have really contributed overall to the success and vitality of Lake Street and downtown Wayzata. They're all pedestrian-oriented and they create a lot of foot traffic, and they're all about wellness."