Chipotle is Tackling the Better-Burger Movement

By Joshua Klafter, Editorial and Social Media Intern

Chipotle, the chain that many consider to be the pioneer of the fast casual industry, is taking its next big step. The company has tackled other cuisine types before, exemplified by their ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen franchise. However, Chipotle is now hopping on a growing fast casual trend.

According to a report by Nation’s Restaurant News, Chipotle proved the circulating rumors true by announcing its newest franchise, Tasty Made. Debuting in Lancaster, Ohio, this fall, the chain will serve burgers, fries, and shakes.

In order to find success in the ever-growing better-burger movement, the report explains that Tasty Made will be using the same sustainable ingredient policies that define its parent franchise.

“As at Chipotle’s other concepts, Tasty Made burgers will use Responsibly Raised beef from animals raised humanely without the use of antibiotics or added hormones,” the report stated.

This approach will also apply to their shakes, which will be made with no preservatives or artificial ingredients.   

NRN cites this business move as the next step in the recovery process from the foodborne illness outbreak Chipotle experienced last fall (for more information on this process: read more).

Chipotle simultaneously announced Nate Appleman and David Chrisman as the head developers of Tasty Made.

According to an article by San Diego Eater, Appleman joined Chipotle in 2010, and was one of the main forces behind the creation of ShopHouse. The NRN report said Chrisman has worked for Chipotle for over 17 years, recently taking the mantle of national training director for the franchise.

NRN noted a striking resemblance between Tasty Made and popular west-coast chain In-N-Out Burger. Both have similar ingredient policies and menus. However, In-N-Out has no plans to upgrade to a national scale, so competition won’t be too intense between the two.


How Rising Rent Rates Will Affect Your Fast Casual

By Joshua Klafter, Editorial and Social Media Intern

The fast casual restaurant industry is booming. With big names such as Chipotle and Panera paving the way, it seems that a new fast casual chain is emerging every day. However, with the rising popularity of this trend comes a problem: realtors want to cash in, too.

A report by Nation’s Restaurant News revealed that rent prices for fast casual franchises are rising. This increase is mainly occurring with leasable spaces in strip malls, the most common location for fast casual.

According to NRN, Sahar Sander, the founder of the fast casual chain Naf Naf Grill, experienced this trend firsthand.

“When his chain first started growing, it paid about $30 per square foot. Now he can expect $70 to $80 per square foot and even higher,” the NRN report stated.

This issue has caused many chains to seek smaller spaces, hoping for equal efficiency and profits in such a compact location.

Naf Naf Grill itself is attempting to open its first location less than 2,000 square feet in size.

However, according to CNBC, this rent increase hasn’t dramatically deterred fast casual entrepreneurs. You can now expect to face the fiercest competition for space the industry has ever seen.

CNBC cites Vice President of Urban Works Kia Hartley’s advice to aspiring fast casual entrepreneurs. Despite the competition and expense, Kia said she believes opening a new restaurant is worth the risk.

She encourages a soft opening in a less popular neighborhood to test the waters before expanding. She also said some landlords will gamble for strong concepts.

CNBC wrote, “It's the big landlords — the corporations, the ones you might expect to care more about money given how much they've made — who are most likely to take a chance on the independent restaurant.” Read More

Reputation Recovery: Update on Chipotle Since E.coli Outbreak

By Joshua Klafter, Editorial and Social Media Intern

  Instagram:  @chipotlemexicangrill

Instagram: @chipotlemexicangrill

Chipotle was plagued with a foodborne illness outbreak in the latter half of 2015. Word of mouth and social media caused negativity toward the fast casual chain to spread like a wildfire. However, Nation’s Restaurant News reported Chipotle is on a path towards success.

In January, Chipotle had a same-store sales decline of 36.4 percent, but their most recent April report showcased a 22 percent decline — a 14.4 percent improvement. While Chipotle is still in decline, the company's road to recovery is evident.

According to NRN, Wall Street analyst Andrew Charles cited increased coupon releases and the passage of time as two causes of Chipotle’s improvement.

Although Charles said he found a correlation between positive brand perception and coupon use, he said he noticed a flaw in his analysis. He said coupons were mainly provided to loyal customers, who, regardless of controversy, would regularly eat at Chipotle.     

A series of interviews conducted by Foodable in November 2015 showed some customers weren’t deterred by the outbreak. They said they believed the restaurant had taken immediate measures to solve the problem.

Although the company is experiencing evident economic recovery, Charles said he believes Chipotle isn’t doing everything in its power to improve.

“Chipotle remains in a ‘show me’ state, given the slower-than-expected pace of recovery since issues surfaced,” he said.

NRN wrote Chipotle will be tapping into methods that provided them much success in the past, such as short filmmaking and game creation. “The Scarecrow” and “Back to the Start” are examples of this success.

Chipotle has experience with recovering from controversy. This outbreak was not the first time Chipotle had to work hard to regain positive brand perception. In an episode of “On Foodable Weekly,” Foodable CEO Paul Barron said the chain was sued for lying about serving non-GMO ingredients.    

However, Charles believes Chipotle’s efforts to improve after this mistake are misdirected.

He said Chipotle isn't fully communicating the safety of its food to customers. He specifically cited the lack of a sign placed in each restaurant explaining the food safety standards of the chain.

“We understand management’s desire to not want to harp on the issues,” he wrote, “but we believe a reflection and wider communication of the improved safety measures still represents an opportunity to drive traffic.”

Chipotle Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung said he does not expect to report any loss in the current quarter, contrasting the 29.7 percent decline of the first. Read More

Posted on June 15, 2016 and filed under Fast Casual, Restaurant News.

Lobster Is Making Its Way To Fast-Casual Menus

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator and Brand Analyst

Well-known chef Marc Forgione opened a fishy fast-casual concept, Lobster Press at The Pennsy in New York City, on Jan. 11. Lobster has always been considered an ingredient that is found on fine-dining menus and associated with special occasions. However, Fargione isn’t letting that discourage him from bringing it with him to the fast-casual world.

The new concept is serving a hot lobster panini based off a popular Chili Lobster dish at his higher-end establishment, Restaurant Marc Forgione, in Tribeca. Forgione partnered with lobster purveyor, Homarus, so his menu at the Lobster Press includes fresh tail, knuckle and claw meat sandwiched in between buttered Grandaisy Ciabatta bread. The meal is paired with a side of Chili Lobster dipping sauce for dunking, similar to that of a French press.

"Even though we're using a high-priced item like lobster, we've figured out a fun and creative way to use the whole animal, in soups, the sauce, the sandwich, so that the price of our sandwich is competitive with other vendors in the Pennsy," said Forgione, who plans to expand downtown later this year. "It's a perfect example of tail to claw cooking. And so far it's been very well received."

Other menu items that will be offered are a Coconut Lobster Bisque; Da Dip (grilled cheese with a side of lobster sauce dip), Lobster Press with or without cheese, The Chance, which is the special sandwich of the day that started off as a House-Cured Corned Beef with Jarlsberg, red sauerkraut, Russian dressing on rye; Chili Lobster Salad with arugula, local vegetables, wonder grain sorghum (gluten-free) and The Press Box, which is a Lobster Press with pickled veggies and kettle chips. Drinks items will include fresh pressed juices, seasonal lemonade and seasonal iced tea.  

The lobster is handpicked every morning from the coast of Maine. Prices will fluctuate at market price and right now the Lobster Press is $17 and the The Press Box is $21. According to Technomic's MenuMonitor database, lobster has increased 2.7 percent at fast-casual restaurants in a year-over-year comparison with an average price of $14.46. Lobster is starting to build its home in the fast-casual world and consumers seem to be more than happy to welcome it. Read More

Outback Co-founder and PDQ Owner To Launch New Fast-Casual Concept

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator

Step aside Fast Casual, there’s a new kid coming to town.

A new eatery created by internationally recognized restaurateur, Outback Steakhouse co-founder, and PDQ owner, Tim Gannon, and his son, Chris Gannon, who has a background in the quick-service, casual-dining and fine-dining segments, is entering the industry with a bold dining concept. It is named Bolay and is taking a different approach to fresh and flavorful food that invigorates the palate.

Bolay is aimed at health-conscious customers, inviting them to build bowls packed with nutrient-rich super foods and tasty proteins. Their company, Palm Beach Restaurant Partners, plans to open the 3,000-square-foot and 60-seat restaurant in Wellington, Fla., in early February.

“We’ve seen in my generation a transformation in what people are eating and their food habits,” Chris Gannon said while mentioning concepts such as Tender Greens, True Food Kitchen and LYFE Kitchen.

Consumers can choose to fill their bowls with bases of kale-currant salad, quinoa, black or basmati rice or gluten-free noodles. Vegetables such as broccoli, mushrooms, sprouts, cauliflower or roasted butternut squash and proteins such as chicken, steak, tuna, tofu or pork tenderloin can be added in. Sauces will also be available, ranging from lemongrass tamari to carrot-ginger, and possible add-ons such as tomatoes, cheese and herbs.

“We are innovating the build your own bowl experience, and pairing it with refreshing cold-pressed juices, infused teas, local craft beer, and wine,” Tim Gannon said.

Chef Martin Oswald, a former protégé of Wolfgang Puck, helped create Bolay’s menu. He is known for representing his European roots by infusing a philosophy of holistic, nutrient-rich food. With inspiration from New Orleans, the team built flavor profiles around these views and the love for food.

“We’re going for incredible flavors first,” Chris Gannon said, “and then it will be, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re nutrient-rich with a healthy spin.’ We’re not healthy first.”

The entire menu will be gluten-free and most ingredients will be free of hormones and antibiotics. The concept’s image is very unique as well, separated from the traditional restaurant logo.

“We looked to the future,” he said, “so we went with teal, which represents the ocean and is clean.” The "Y" in the logo also represents grains, linking it to the restaurant’s nutrient-rich foods, Gannon said.

Bolay already has a website and has been building interest on social media, especially on Instagram and Facebook. Read More


Qdoba Introduces Their Anti-Chipotle Weapon: Quentessa

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator

Qdoba Mexican Grill is determined to step out Chipotle's shadow. No longer wanting the reputation of a "me-too" burrito company, they are planning to overthrow the giant chain with a unique weapon: an imaginary woman.  

Yep, you read it right.

Meet Quentessa, the new femme fatale of the food industry. She is the inspiration behind their vision. Qdoba created this persona to represent everything they want their brand to be. She is a model they follow and their thematic compass.

Quentessa is the girl all the boys want and who all the girls want to be. Qdoba’s plan is to redesign the chain based on Quentessa's personality. The atmosphere will be revolved on the type of flavor she brings. Everything from store architecture, branding, the menu and how employees interact with customers will change based on Quentessa.

"She’s naturally magnetic, leads a story-filled life, and invites others to do the same. She’s a personification of flavor in our lives," said Vice President of Brand Marketing, David Craven.

She apparently also loves to eat at Qdoba. Figures.

The outcome of this makeover will be very interesting to see due to the chain’s inability to get away from being second to Chipotle since its start. The chain opened as Zuma Fresh Mexican Grill (later renamed Z-Teca after a lawsuit, then Qdoba, after another).

With the way things are going, for the first time in 20 years, Qdoba is ready to get on the field with Chipotle. Qdoba was sitting in the stands with Moe's Southwest Grill, while Chipotle was a titan in the fast-casual industry with its 2,000 locations and $3.2 billion in revenue. However, according to Wall Street, Qdoba stepped up their game in 2014 with its menu and price adjustments. 

How did they come up with their game-changing plan? President Tim Casey set up a 12-firm competition, and in the end, brand strategy and design firm Prophet rose to the top to remake Qdoba as a whole. When doing consumer research, it was clear that the chain had to implement some type of theme that would lead them to their own white space in the industry. This is when Prophet came up with the idea of having a persona targeting customers 18 to 24 years-old, skewing male. And thus, Quentessa was born.

"There wasn’t any image per se. There was a lot of inspirational elements, I'd say, that helped us grasp who she was. Some of those points of inspiration were characters in movies—that’s an easy way for people in brands to wrap their heads around obtuse ideas," Tim Casey said. "We thought about Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook. Mila Kunis in her Jim Beam work recently. Uma Thurman in some of her movies—like Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill—obviously not the full scope! But this idea of having boldness. Flavor. Badass without trying. Sophisticated, yet approachable and successful."

Quentessa is now Qdoba's leading lady in a campaign against Chipotle. Chipotle is known for its efficiency and reliability, not necessarily its creativity in food or design. But Prophet wants to shake things up by making Qdoba a space where people can let loose. Its plans include wood-topped tables that can be rearranged for small groups with bright colored interiors. 

"We [created] a visual system that’s not based upon the clichés of the Mexican grill category," explained Prophet CCO, Peter Dixon. "Not sombreros and cactuses, but street art and strong visual tropes of Mexican culture."

Each space will be uniquely laid out with different local artwork so the chain locations don’t actually look like part of a chain.

Now, let’s get to the important part. You know — the food. Qdoba may have gotten criticized for being too bland in the past, but they plan to reverse this by going all-out with tacos. The chain believes Chipotle isn’t giving tacos enough attention, considering tacos are hot right now. From the food truck scene to fine-dining restaurants, consumers dig tacos. Chipotle may be king of burritos, but no restaurant has yet to take the taco throne in the fast-casual world. 

Qdoba will be displaying a traditional flat-top grill where consumers can watch raw masa and wheat dough toast into their tortillas. How does that sound compared to Chipotle’s pre-made flour tortillas? Consumers will have the option to fill their tacos with flavors such as lime chili brisket, tequila chicken or steak with caesar salad. Qdoba has also in the last year stopped up charging for add-ons such as guacamole. (You hear that, Chipotle?)  

"You can be more experimental," says Dixon. "You can share them. They’re a great social food. You can mix and match in one meal." 

Qdoba wants to avoid the corporate-machine feel, that usually includes structured assembly lines and robot-type employees. The chain wants employees to be themselves and speak their minds. With new casual polo-free uniforms, including hoodies, employees will give off a more laid back vibe, because they indeed will feel that way.

"The worst thing you could hear is a server who says everything’s good," added John Cooke, VP of Menu Strategy and Innovation. "You don’t trust anything they say. We want our team members to be talking about the flavors they personally love." Read More

Johnny Rockets Targets Millennials with new Fast-Casual Concept

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator


Johnny Rockets has always been a great place to go when you’re with your family, on vacation or enjoying a special occasion. However, imagine a Johnny Rockets with a Millennial-focused, fast-casual concept with faster service and customization. Ladies and gentlemen, the chain is bringing you just that.

Johnny Rockets launched a future sub-brand called Johnny’s Burger Factory. The first of two company locations to open this year is located at the Walden Galleria mall in Buffalo, N.Y. in a 1,000 square feet space. The second location is planned to open in November outside Syracuse, N.Y.

“This is targeted to deliver a better-burger experience in a more Millennial-friendly environment,” said James Walker, Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Johnny Rockets president of global operations and development.

So what makes this place so different from Johnny Rockets? Essentially, the Burger Factory is a little more hip, daring and cheeky focusing on burgers, fries, shakes and new hand-breaded chicken tenders and onion rings.

The company also made things very digital. Consumers don’t come in waiting for someone to take their order. They do it themselves using a touch-screen kiosks. With this technology, a guest can build their own burger and use a self-serve “sauce bar” that displays eights different dipping sauces to pair with their chicken tenders, fries or onion rings. I can’t imagine Millennials will have a problem with having so much power. (Except for spending too much time at the kiosk toying with different options. Good luck, line-goers!)

Because the kitchens will also gets pretty fancy with technology, Walker said the concept can deliver made-to-order burger with fries in less than four minutes. How is this sorcery possible? The kitchen’s new technology includes “clamshell cooking” systems that can cook a burger patty in one minute along with faster fryers. In the future, the company also plans to add technologies that make baked-in-house buns and house-made ice cream doable.

Restaurants will have a video wall and digital menu board that resembles a handwritten chalkboard. The staff will wear jeans, T-shirts and butcher-style aprons. There will be Coke Freestyle machines on the soda side available as well as milk shakes. Prices aren’t too shabby either, the average check is around $10 per person, keeping it Johnny Rockets style.

For the booze fans, Johnny’s Burger Factory will open without beer or wine, however, the service will be added about 45 days after opening. And to make it even more exciting, the company is going to get creative with a float made with Guinness beer. The Burger Factory will also be keeping up with the craft beer trend: four craft beers will be on tap.

Over the last few years, Johnny Rockets has been testing the waters with fast-casual modifications under past management teams, including JR’s Burger Grill in 2012.  The now-closed casual-dining chain was obtained by Sun Capital Partners Inc. a private-equity firm in 2013.

The 344-unit chain introduced a new Route 66-inspired prototype with numerous formats. A Johnny Rockets Express, which is a QSR concept is also growing and opening up in nontraditional locations such as college campuses. The company will continue with this these formats but the Burger Factory is a completely different variation.

In the better-burger world, there isn’t a lot of variety nor that many different approaches. Charles Bruce, who was named president and CEO of Johnny Rockets agrees but has plans for Burger Factory to separate from all the monotony. The concept will also be targeting the Hispanic community which is growing seven times the rate of the general population. How will the company cater to this group? Hispanic customers usually like to eat out in large groups. Burger Factory will have more adjustable seating with community tables. Other better-burger chains may need to step aside.

“There’s a lot of demand for it. Consumers like it, and, like everything else in the restaurant industry, it’s about meeting needs,” Bruce said. “We feel this will meet changing needs most effectively.”

Could Johnny's Burger Factory initiate a new fast-casual trend? Read More

How do fast-casual consumers conceptualize healthy and high-quality food?

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator

It seems as though consumers in the fast-casual world have expressed a huge importance in healthy eating in the last year. Leading players in this “good-for-you” segment, such as Chipotle and Sweetgreen, have really kept up with the latest trends in nutrition. But lets get specific. What matters most to fast-casual customers? Gluten-free, organic or GMO-free food? And how much do they really care in general? 

According to a recent Zagat survey, consumers don’t actually care as much as one would think. Zagat surveyed more than 6,600 people for the publication’s first report on fast-casual dining. Between Gluten-free, organic and GMO-free food, customers concentrate more on GMO-free food. About 19 percent responded that it’s “very important” for a fast-casual restaurant to have GMO-free ingredients. However, only 5 percent of survey participants feel that gluten-free options should be emphasized, and 81 percent say it’s not significant to them or just have no opinion overall.

But don’t be fooled by these results! Food and ingredient quality is still, without opposition, the most attractive characteristic in a fast-casual restaurant for customers. It’s what keeps them coming back. The second and third most important factors are value and cleanliness.

It gets more interesting, everyone. Lunch is the most favored meal to eat at fast-casuals. Two-thirds either go once or twice a week or a few times a month with 60 percent leaning toward lunch. Only 2 percent regularly visit fast-casuals for breakfast. Breakfast, however, has a huge potential for growth, as it does in the fast-food industry. For example, McDonald’s breakfast makes up a fourth of sales. It's no wonder the company made the move to serve breakfast all day.

How will fast-casuals define themselves moving forward? Well, with the way consumers develop concepts on healthy eating high-quality food will continue to play a major role. Although a small percentage of consumers labeled gluten-free options as important, this lifestyle has already risen. From 2010 to 2012, gluten-free options increased ten times as great on full-service menus. Chains like Pizza Hut and Panera have joined the gluten-free club and have added options in just the last year.

However, the healthy-conscious crowd still seems to be concentrating more on GMOs. Chipotle became the first national chain to go GMO-free. But that still wasn’t enough for customers. On Monday, Aug. 31, a lawsuit was filed against the chain claiming that menu items still weren’t GMO-free, Chipotle's soft drinks and meat products in particular. Read More  

Adding a Little Spice to the Fast-Casual World

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator


Indian food may be delicious, however, it isn't the most popular cuisine you'll find across U.S. restaurants. According to the Washington Post, Indian food accounts for only 1.2 percent of the ethnic food market share.

Despite the numbers, a small New York City Indian restaurant, Indikitch, may be the start of a new trend and is being hailed as the potential Chipotle of Indian food. Indikitch first opened in January 2014 in Flatiron and then expanded to a midtown Manhattan location in May. Like Chipotle, its food is about quality and fresh ingredients. Indikitch prides itself on all-natural, GMO-free ingredients and being a scratch-kitchen. The food is also prepared in front of the customers and invites them to its fast-casual ambience. 

Indikitch’s menu has four main choices. Customers can choose Feast, which is essentially a rice and meat plate with a side. They also have the option of a Biryani rice bowl, a Dosa meal, which are regarded as Indian tacos, and last but not least, a salad dish. Customers can select different meats, but half the menu is vegetarian-friendly, making Indikitch a restaurant that caters to many different taste buds. And for reasonable prices, as well!  

As guests move down the order line, freshly made sauces and chutneys are available. But that’s not all, folks! In order to differentiate the orders, Indikitch puts little flags on its food. And just like those flags, this Chipotle-styled, Manhattan-based restaurant is flagging down the fast-casual world with its unique twist. 

The bags say it all. “Life’s too short to waste it on the bland, the boring and the banal. A little spice, a touch of heat and a lot of love gives flavor to everything we do.” Read More 

Potential Nemesis for Chipotle?

By Michelle Castillo, Social Media Coordinator


Should Chipotle prepare for battle? 

According to a Consumer Reports survey, Rubio’s Coastal Grill tastes better than Chipotle and was named the best Mexican-food chain in America. This report polled more than 32,400 subscribers who ranked 65 restaurants. Chains included Taco Bell, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Baja Fresh and Moe’s Southwest Grill.

Interestingly enough, Rubio’s CEO, Marc Simon, was formerly a regional director for Chipotle. Chipotle has always been known and loved for its quality and efficient service.

"It's become a machine. I say that with a great deal of respect because it's well oiled,” Simon said. However, being quick is what separates Chipotle from Rubio’s. 

It takes about seven minutes to prepare a meal at Rubio's and to get it from the kitchen to the table. Seven minutes can feel like a lifetime in the fast-casual industry. The wait can be due to its seafood ingredients that make 30 percent of the menu. The chain inspired by Baja California cuisine is famous for its fish-taco recipe. You can’t exactly let tilapia sit after being cooked and expect it to taste just as good as it would fresh. 

This new Mexican chain found on the West Coast has only 163 restaurants, whereas Chipotle has close to 1,700 locations across the U.S. Like Chipotle, Rubio’s emphasizes fresh ingredients. However, Chipotle representative Chris Arnold told Business Insider in March that the brand does not plan to implement seafood in its menu. 

"There's this argument: Better food wins," Simon said. Read More

Posted on August 26, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, New Restaurants, Fast Casual Trends.

The Worst Practice of Fast Casual Restaurants

fast casual

The fast casual restaurant business has undoubtedly boomed in the last few years, changing the industry at an exponential rate. New concepts and established restaurants alike are switching gears to cater to the changing needs of consumers, but while fast casuals may be trending, one practice may set companies back who are looking to grow: ironically, they may become stunted if they are growing too fast.

Take a look at these quotes from well-known IPOs that The Motley Fool pulled for a side-by-side comparison.

"We utilize a sophisticated site selection process using proprietary methods to identify target markets and expansion opportunities within those markets. Based on this analysis, we believe there is substantial development opportunity in both new and existing markets. We expect to double our restaurant base in approximately four years." -- Zoe's Kitchen 

"Our selection process uses proprietary methods to identify target markets and expansion opportunities within such markets. Based on this analysis, we believe there is opportunity for substantial development in both new and existing markets, and we expect to double our restaurant base over the next four years." -- Habit Restaurants Inc.

"With only 63 Shacks around the world, as of December 31, 2014, we have identified many attractive new markets for the Shake Shack experience...We currently expect at least 10 new domestic company-operated Shacks to be opened throughout the year, [and] at least five international licensed Shacks to be opened under the Company's current license agreements in the U.K. and Middle East..." -- Shake Shack Inc.

All three of these companies have set their goals at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent. Are these expectations unrealistic? Could this promise, not likely to be kept, affect investor decision? Read More


Posted on August 13, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual.

Fast Casual Pizza -- The New Chipotle?


Is the put-your-pie-together appeal of fast casual pizza the new trend that will take the industry by storm? Is its popularity showing the same beginning stages of Chipotle's uprising? Technomic reported that the segment had the largest annual-sales gain in 2014 at 22 percent. During the next five years, at least 2,000 fast casual pizza restaurants are expected to open.

Foodable Industry Analyst Editor Amelia Levin believes there are several factors that contribute to the success of fast casual pizza. As diners have become more educated and involved in what goes behind their meals, the artisan-made, high-quality ingredients most fast casuals boast are drawing consumer attention away from quick-service, pick-up pizza chains. Guests are willing to pay a little more for higher-quality, made-to-order pies.

The growing power of Millennials also contribute to the rise of fast casual pizza, as this generation appreciates the added control they have over their food with the ability to customize their orders, as Chipotle allows them to do. Read More

Posted on August 4, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends, foodable.

Growing Investor Appetite, Growing Fast Casual IPOs


The fast-casual sphere has shown solid growth in consumer and investor demand. When Zoës Kitchen Inc. first graced the New York Stock Exchange last April with an initial public offering of $87.5 million, industry experts saw this strong entry as an indicator of financial shifts in the limited-service restaurant industry.

This prediction was further bolstered toward the end of 2014, when another fast casual made a stunning debut. Habit Restaurants LLC, the operator of Habit Burger, saw an initial offering of $100 million. And then the West Coast Mexican chicken chain El Pollo Loco priced 7.4 million shares and brought in $107 million.

John Gordon, principal with Pacific Management Consulting Group in San Diego, believes the public hunger for restaurant stock, especially fast casual, is unquestionable. New brands, he said, drive the marketplace by driving excitement. As more limited-service brands choose to meet investment demand with IPOs, there will be a greater temptation for smaller players to enter the market.

However, going public too soon will be more detrimental than not going public at all, he warned. He advised that an IPO must hover between $80 to $100 million in order to be viable. Read More

New Fast-Casual, Fried-Chicken Concept Hatching

fried chicken

Consumers may be getting ready to start throwing their "buck, buck, buck"-s at this new fast-casual, fried chicken concept. The POST Brewing Company in Colorado, known its chicken offerings and owned by restaurant group Big Red F, is jumping onto the fast-casual fried chicken bandwagon by launching several joints called GoodBird Kitchen. The first, to be located in Longmont, has construction slated for September and an opening scheduled for November. 

"The GBKs will be a smaller, more streamlined version of The Post Brewing Company," Big Red F founder, Dave Query, said. "GBK will offer our great fried and rotisserie bird and our award-winning POST beers. Guests will order at a counter prior to being sat and full-service will be available from that point forward."

Prices will start around $7 and will top off at $14 for platters. Family meals will also be available at walk-up to-go windows. Beer, chicken-friendly wines and a straightforward, classic cocktail drinks will be decorating the menu.

"We are trying to create a simple, easy-to-use, value-driven chicken concept," Query said. Read More

Investor Interest in Chipotle Sizzling Out?

Must all good things come to an end?


Chipotle has been the longtime darling of the Fast Casual world. It's the poster child, the perfect model of what works in the industry, however Barron's, America's premier financial magazine, reported that Chipotle is "losing its spice." The company stock could lose another 15 to 20% as new obstacles to its growth are arising. 

The restaurant enjoyed multiple years of solid, double-digit revenue growth, with a stock price to match. Shares soared to $727 in February this year, an astonishing 1,516% increase since Chipotle's IPO in 2006. However, investors are steadily unlinking themselves from the chain. The company's stock has fallen 16% to $609 since February.

Perhaps loyal investors are becoming unsettled by the number of challenges Chipotle is enduring. From pork shortages, rising labor and beef costs, and an unexpected backlash following the company's decision to remove GMOs from its menu, this is going to be a bumpy road -- hopefully the path Chipotle goes on will lead to better destinations. Read More

Posted on July 14, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Nation.

Shake Shack's First Chicken Sandwich: Will It Rule the Roost?

Shake Shack

Investors on Wall Street may want to take another bite of Shake Shack's stock, because this chain just hatched a new item on its menu.

New Yorkers will get to enjoy Shake Shack's first-ever chicken sandwich. Along with its shakes and burgers, the ChickenShack is making its debut -- but only for a limited time at its three Brooklyn locations. The new, anti-biotic ChickenShack sandwich is topped with lettuce, pickles and buttermilk herb mayo. The rumor mill has been humming with the possibility this act is a response to Chick-fil-A, which is set to open its first major location in Midtown Manhattan later this summer.

"We have heard from guests for years that they would love to see a chicken sandwich from Shake Shack," Shake Shack Vice President of Marketing and Communication, Edwin Bragg, said. "We feel that it's a modern twist on the classic American chicken sandwich."

In a comment to MarketWatch, Chick-fil-A has welcomed Shake Shack's new addition.

"Danny Meyer and his team are known for their commitment to quality food. We celebrate all efforts to bring great food and remarkable service to the market," Chick-fil-A spokeswoman Carrie Kurlander said.

Market research firm NPD Group stated that chicken sales at fast-food restaurants had grown 3 percent to $5.4 billion for the year, steeper than the pace of burger sales, so the timing of Shake Shack's strategic release is ideal. Read More

Why Celebrity Chefs are Going Fast-Casual


It's not about the riches, but about getting back to the root of their passion.

Celebrated Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie is one of those who packed up his knives and left the world of luxury dining. And he remembers the exact moment he realized he needed to -- he noticed his parents had stopped coming to Woodfire Grill, where he was the co-owner and executive chef.

The elegant restaurant served meals on fine china, with exquisite creations such as foie gras with banana and cashews, octopus tempura and squab fowl with saffron potatoes. The tab for dinner could run up to $100-200 per person, but it wasn't the price tag that drove his parents away. They could stop by whenever they wanted and the meal would be on the house.

"When I asked my dad what was going on, it suddenly became clear that he felt that as an average blue collar worker, Woodfire Grill was just not a place he was comfortable spending time at," Gillespie said. "It broke my heart. My parents mean a lot to me and I hated to think that I was part of a world that they didn't feel like they belonged to. As chefs, we are blue collar workers ourselves and at fine dining restaurants, we aren't cooking for our own people." 

It wasn't long after that painful conversation that Gillespie switched gears. He waved farewell to his post at Woodfire Grill in 2013 and later that year, he opened the Southern-inspired restaurant called Gunshow. He brought the same creativity without the hefty bill, or sacrificing his commitment to using fresh, local produce. Read More  

Posted on July 2, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Restaurant Trends.

Fast Casual Chains Chomping on a Bigger Portion of the Food Industry


McDonald's has once again hit the news. Recently, this fast-food icon revealed it is doing something it hasn't done for at least 40 years -- the chain is downsizing.

Perhaps it's a bit obsessive how media is circling the Golden Arches, but no one can deny that McDonald's is an industry titan. The company has been a model for fast-food chains to follow, so the fact that it will have to close more restaurants than open in the United States simply to fight against dwindling number sales is something worth talking about.  On the other hand, fast casuals such as Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Chipotle Mexican Grill are continuing to pop up.

By now, it's no surprise that consumer trends are leaning toward fresher, nutritional menu options and McDonald's does not fit into the mold customer perception has created. Even its national campaign launched last year that was designed to make the company more transparent, called "Our Food. Your Questions," did not seem to help.  Read More

Posted on June 26, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends.

Sorry, McDonald's -- In Chipotle We Trust


Right now, consumers are just not Lovin' It.

If you know anything about fast casual, it's that Chipotle is king, while fast-food-icon-of-the-ages McDonald's is steadily losing steam as the health-conscious, millennial generation is on the rise. A recent report by the Reputation Institute confirms this notion. Reputation Institute, a global consulting firm, researches the customers' emotional connections to a brand and in turn studies how those sentiments affect their willingness to buy the company's product. In their annual survey, they asked 27,000 people to chime in on some of the most talked about U.S. companies.

Which of the chains came out on top? Panera leads the top ten list, followed by Dunkin' Brands. Of course, Chipotle made the list, along with Wendy's and Subway, but (maybe not-so) surprisingly enough, food tycoon McDonald's did not.

In one year, on scale from 0 to 100, Chipotle's reputation score jumped to 74.2 in 2015 from its previous 69.4 score, whereas McDonald's dropped to 55.3 from its former 64. Read More

Posted on June 22, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends.

Fast-Casual Restaurants Trumping Retail


At least in sunny southern California, restaurants are reigning supreme and taking over the scene. The only "tail" part of the retail business may be the fact that this sector is being sent packing with its tail between its legs. 

Brokerage company Kennedy Wilson has recently completed three lease transactions with Jersey Mike's Subs. Although these three leases only total 4,100 square feet, the restaurant's rapid crop-up in the greater Los Angeles area illustrates how the dining experience is steadily being more prioritized than the shopping experience. 

"Today, restaurants are the anchor tenants and people are going to retail destinations specifically for restaurants, whether that is a fast-casual experience or a sit-down experience," Kennedy Wilson VP Michael Pakravan said. "Overall, people eat out a lot more. It used to be that you would eat out two to three meals a week, but millennials are now eating out two to three meals a day. When planning a shopping center or a mixed-use development, it is important to have both the fast casual and the sit-down restaurants to cater to different needs."

Due to the rise in popularity of fast-casual restaurants, there has been a shortage of quality spaces. More players in the game are trying to fit in the field. With twice as many quick-service restaurants as there were five years ago, competing businesses are taking spaces at higher rates. How does a restaurant's reputation help it stay competitive in the retail space? Read More

Posted on June 15, 2015 and filed under Fast Casual, Fast Casual Trends.