Fast Casual Chains to Watch In 2015

While Chipotle may have paved the way for Fast Casual, there are some new kids on the block with innovative concepts and smart business strategy ready to make their mark. Have you seen any of these brands pop up in your neighborhood? These are some top picks for Fast Casual stardom:

Sandwich from Mendocino Farms | Foodabletv.com

Sandwich from Mendocino Farms | Foodabletv.com

Chop't Creative Salad Company is already the leader in the premium salad fast casual segment. Currently, the chain has locations in New York and Washington DC but it is growing at a rapid pace. With over 50 toppings and seasonal specialties, there is nothing boring about these salads.

Mendocino Farms is a unique upscale sandwich chain based out of LA with 9 locations so far. They focus on local, seasonal and artisanal ingredients and like to reconstruct fine dining entrees to the sandwich level. Their innovative menu and modern twists on classic sandwiches is what sets them apart from the rest. 

Old world meets new school at Roti Mediterranean Grill.  They have a classic take on traditional mediterranean cuisine so it is authentic yet trendy enough to appeal to Millennials with gluten-free options and "freebird" chicken. Originating in Chicago they have already expanded east to New York and DC. Read More

Next up: Wendy's Tries To Keep Up With Fast Casual

The competition is heating up as fast food chains try to stay in the game with the fast casual movement. We are seeing some creative and over the top strategies from these QSRs– specifically with messages that they too care about health and sustainability. 

Realizing that consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it gets to their plate, Wendy's has launched a new ad campaign. To showcase the freshness of their food, the Wendy's commercial follows a head of lettuce from the farm to the table. Using a GoPro camera and promoting the healthy "my food is straight from the farm" trend, Wendy's is targeting the health-conscious millennials who demand to know where their food is coming from. What do you think of Wendy's strategy?  Click here to watch "Wendy's Romaine Lettuce Journey".

Fast Food Tries To Keep Up With Fast Casual

After massive suffering due to competition from Chipotle and other fast casuals, McDonald's is realizing it's time to regroup! Their most recent CEO has been booted as he led one of their worst revenue years in decades.  As of Monday, McDonald's has pledged to make itself a "modern, progressive burger company". So far the company that virtually started fast food has struggled to find the formula to keep up with consumers desire for healthier and fresher food options. With a new CEO in place, the company's first order of business is to switch to chicken raised with fewer antibiotics. Analysts suspect it won't be long before we see kale on the menu, despite an ad that once unapologetically praised its famous Big Mac saying "it will never be kale".  

Other fast food brands are making changes to keep up with the competition brought by the Fast Casual movement. Burger King is removing soda from being an option on the kids menu and will recommend juice or milk instead. Wendy's most recent ad campaign shows a head of lettuce traveling from the farm to your plate as a way to promote freshness.  Read more

Fast Food Doesn't Mean Diet Disaster

In recent times, there has been a drastic increase in the amount of healthy options being offered at fast food and fast casual establishments. Even with the vast offerings it is still up to the consumer to adjust their orders accordingly if health is a concern. Many dishes are large portions and full of sodium, sugar and high in calories. Nutrition information is now readily available either posted on menus at the restaurant or on the companies website, which takes the guesswork out of knowing exactly what you are consuming. So how are consumers eating healthy when they visit restaurants? 

  • By holding the "Special Sauce" and steering clear of tuna and chicken salad. Both of these are diet pitfalls, generally being heavy on the mayonnaise and packing a high fat and calorie count.  
  • Going light on the cheese and sauce and load up on veggies. This is done by getting the dressing or sauce on the side and choose lighter options like salsa, mustard and pico de gallo. 
  • Ordering smaller or lunch-sized portions or splitting with a friend. Often health-conscious diners wrap up half to take home before we even start eating. 

Read More

Is Denver the Capital of Fast-Casual?

Photo from Chop Shop in Denver, CO | Foodable Web TV Network

Photo from Chop Shop in Denver, CO | Foodable Web TV Network

Denver seems to be a hub of the fast-casual trend, largely in part due to it having the right demographic. The city is filled with millennials and affluent customers who are looking for quick and convenient but also healthy food options. There have been multiple success stories of brands starting in Denver, such an Chipotle and Smashburger, but many brands have moved there and expanded.  

Consumers like variety and there are options for each person's dietary needs. The accessibility to gluten free and dairy free options are plentiful. The quality of the food is becoming even better due to chefs from high end restaurants bringing their flare to fast casual. People are more aware nowadays of locally sourced and organic and higher end ingredients due to the availability of information. They can now watch chefs on television and go online to access the latest food trends. Read more

Posted on March 5, 2015 and filed under The Chipotle Effect, Fast Casual.

Cracker Barrel Next to Jump on the Fast Casual Bandwagon

Photo of a Cracker Barrel restaurant | Crackerbarrel.com    

Photo of a Cracker Barrel restaurant | Crackerbarrel.com    

This traveler’s favorite highway exit rest stop is getting a makeover! The old timey country store/eatery is in the works to revamp and join the fast casual movement. The company’s strategy to expand the brand is no surprise considering fast casual now makes up the majority of food services sales. As the concept is still in its early stages of development, there are minimal details available, but we can expect to see the new format by July 2016. Do you think the brand has what it takes to create a successful fast casual with a new twist on Southern Hospitality? Read More

Fast Casual: Here to Stay

Interior of the fast casual restaurant, Pitfire | Foodable WebTV Network  

Interior of the fast casual restaurant, Pitfire | Foodable WebTV Network
 

Look out America! Fast casual dining has entered the food industry, and it isn’t going leaving anytime soon. Restaurants in this category, such as Chipotle, Panera Bread, and Shake Shack, have watched their sales skyrocket in a short period of time as consumers are proving the successful idea of charging extra for a better product in an easy-going atmosphere.

While this area of food service is relatively new, consumers and restaurant operators can agree that the system is only getting stronger. In promoting higher-quality food, a more transparent environment, and sustainable practices, fast casual restaurants are making it their mission to emphasize an overall pleasurable experience from start to finish. It’s an experience that has everyone talking and longer-standing fast food chains rushing to adopt the same approach.

At this point, with society discovering the best “bang for their buck” when it comes to a valuable dining experience, the model of fast casual is here to stay. Read more here.

The Rise of the Chipotle Empire and the Decline of Quick Serve

Cartoon of Steve Ells from Animated Video by Chipotle | chipotle.com

Cartoon of Steve Ells from Animated Video by Chipotle | chipotle.com

No one can argue that the “fast casual” restaurant chains are making their debut in America. The idea of higher-quality ingredients served at an efficient rate for a few more bucks out of your pocket is redefining the food industry, while forcing the larger fast food chains to adapt or give up the fight.

Steve Ells, Founder and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, initiated the rise of this new business model with the opening of the first Chipotle in 1993. Combining a passion for culinary arts, a little support from family and friends, and eventually an investment from a major restaurant chain, McDonalds, his restaurant has risen to a multi-billion dollar company in the span of two decades. Where did this restaurant plant its roots and what has made it so successful with the American public?

Applying this idea of “fast casual” service largely differed from the fast food model on which McDonalds had built their empire, and eventually led to their split with the chain in 2008. Not only did Chipotle succeed from the idea of serving “food with integrity,” they created an entirely new business model that revolutionized the existing models in the industry and left fast food chains, including McDonalds, struggling to keep up. Read more about Chipotle’s history here

FDA Publishes Rule: Calories Posting On Menu

PHOTO CREDIT: NRN.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: NRN.COM

The long expected rules are finally official. The Federal Trade Commission has just required restaurant chains to publish all calorie counts on menus boards. All brands over 20 locations must abide to the rule, and it seems to be widely accepted. 

"We believe that the Food and Drug Administration has positively addressed the areas of greatest concern with the proposed regulations and is providing the industry with the ability to implement the law in a way that will most benefit consumers." National Restaurant Association CEO Dawn Sweeney comments. 

The NRA, along with 70 other groups, pushed for the national menu labeling standard to be implemented. With a year to comply with the new rule, restaurants are able to obtain these counts from nutrient databases, nutrition facts labels, and 'other reasonable means.' Read more here.

Posted on November 26, 2014 and filed under Restaurant News.

Fired Pie Gives Away Free Pizza For Opening Day

PHOTO CREDIT: FIRED PIE

PHOTO CREDIT: FIRED PIE

What's a better way to get customers into your store than giving away free grub?! Uhhhh, NOTHING. Fired Pie is introducing itself to the Tucson location with free pizza and salads for dine-in diners. Too good to be true? Nope it's true .... BUT the brand is requesting customers to being a non-perishable item to donate to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. 

What is so special about Fired Pie compared to the other fast casual pizza brands around the block? Just like any, you choose your crust, sauce, cheese and toppings, but this pizza only takes 90 seconds. CRAZY FAST. Read more about Fired Pizza here.

Posted on November 24, 2014 .

Freshii Gives Wynwood A Fresh-Over

We all know that Wynwood is Miami's HOTTEST neighborhood, but what is it missing? It has the art, the people, and the vibes.... All Wynwood is missing is some good grub.

PHOTO CREDIT: MIAMINEWTIMES.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: MIAMINEWTIMES.COM

The Canadian chain Freshii has just opened it's doors in Wynwood, serving fresh and healthy fast casual "They [NY] had fresh food, salads, wraps, lousy branding, lousy service, and what I wanted to do was basically create a brand around the ability to customize and eat clean food." And he did just that. Opening their first 100 restaurants faster than Starbucks, McDonald's and Subway, Freshii is soon to expand to great lengths in the US. Coming to Dadeland, Fort Lauderdale, Boca and Jupiter. Read more here.

Posted on November 21, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

The Melt Get's More On The Menu

The grilled cheese guru The Melt just announced the launch of new products in their San Francisco-based locations. Their new items include: an original burger melt, spicy mission burger melt, double bacon BBQ burger melt, Caesar spinach bird chicken melt, 'shroom chicken melt, Buffalo chicken melt, truffle grilled cheese melt, trio macaroni + cheese, naked fries with Melt Spice, well-dressed fries with aged cheeses bacon and onions. 

PHOTO CREDIT: THEMELT.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: THEMELT.COM

CEO and Chairperson Jonathan Kaplan reports in a company press release: "Our founding mission was to serve happiness to families through 100% all-natural wholesome American classics, We're thrilled that our new menu is the evolution of our mission to ensure American families can enjoy the foods they love while also being good for you. Read more about The Melt here.

Posted on November 19, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Fast Casual Kitchen Appliances: Middleby Stock On The Rise

PHOTO CREDIT: PIZZAHH.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: PIZZAHH.COM

As the fast casual industry grows, so does the companies associated with them. Middleby Corp is the maker of all kitchen appliances has just grown to extraordinary lengths. Why? Well they can be found in any Panera Bread, Chipotle or Starbucks. Yeah, see the popularity now?

With Middleby's stock up 16 percent this year, the fast casual industry is all over these professional appliances, making them in high demand across the nation. And they are sure to only rise even more. Read more here.

Posted on November 17, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Tim Horton Asks Social Celebs For Tacky Sweater Contest

PHOTO CREDIT: MEDIAPOST.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: MEDIAPOST.COM

 

This holiday season, Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shop is not holding back one ... sweater?

Hortons fans are encouraged to participate in #TimsTackSweater campaign, where during the holiday promotion period they can receive prize-pack giveaways. On Twitter, Instagram and Vine all participants have the ability to be entered for a chance to win. Trying to reach the most consumers possible, Tim's got some social celebrities in on the action. These personalities include Toast Meets World, a King Charles Cavalier rescue dog with 127,000 Instagram followers, KC James, Vine celebrits with 4.3M followers, and Hilary Knight, 2x Olympic silver medalist with 45,500 Twitter followers.

The brand plans to participate in the Thanksgiving Parade, at goodwill stores, local events, and NHL + NFL teams to promote their holiday items. They also plan to send brand ambassadors dressed in tacky sweaters to sample their new coffee and hot chocolate. Smart, Tim! Read more here.

Posted on November 14, 2014 and filed under Social Media.

Hello Kitty Cafe Coming To Orange County

Oh, Hello Kitty!!! The company behind the iconic Hello Kitty, Sanrio announced that the first U.S. Hello Kitty Cafe will be opening in the city of Orange Kitty. With the launch of this fast casual dining experience, the brand plans to share the idea with consumers through the use of a Hello Kitty Cafe Food Truck, hitting the streets over the holidays. The HK food truck serves pastries, cakes and donuts to consumers, with none other than Miss Hello Kitty appearing on the packaging. "We think Hello Kitty fans are right in line with our demographic and we're honored Hello Kitty picked Irvine Spectrum Center to visit." says Stacie Ellis, senior marketing director for Irvine Company Retail Properties. Read more here.

PHOTO CREDIT: OCREGISTER.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: OCREGISTER.COM

Posted on November 12, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Courtyard by Marriott Bistro Is A Hot Fast Casual Concept

PHOTO CREDIT: FASTCASUAL.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: FASTCASUAL.COM

In 2008, the Courtyard by Marriott introduced a new concept throughout their locations. The Courtyard Bistro "coffee house meets open kitchen" fast casual concept features ready-to-go food, quickly-prepared hot entrees and Starbucks beverages for all guests to enjoy. But why the switch? Courtyard noticed that their guests would skip the traditional lobby buffet and heading to a local Starbucks or better food selection. With the new bistro addition, there has been a 27-percent increase in guests recommending to their friends to visit a Courtyard by Marriott. Read more about the switch here.

Posted on November 10, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Salads UP: Healthy Fast Casual Launch in Michigan

As a senior in college, Robert Mayer and Max Steir decided that their campus of Michigan State needed more healthy options to choose from. With the opening of their dining experience, Salad UP, they friends are offering cold pressed juices, soups, wraps and 40 different types of organic fruits and vegetables to top their salads. The brand is catering to the young millennials in the area, and with the Salads UP crew all being under the age of 26 they are sure to do just that. Read more here.

PHOTO CREDIT: HERCAMPUS.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: HERCAMPUS.COM

Posted on November 7, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Pizza At 800 Degrees Cooks In Only 2 Minutes

A fresh-made, customized pizza cooked right before your eyes in just 2 minutes. Is this real life? It sure is, and coincidentally, the pizzeria with this fast-paced concept is 800 degrees, very clever. The chain is expanding from the Los Angeles area, and expanding almost as quickly as their pizza dough. The gourmet flair to their pizzas, as well as the speed of service, is getting consumers interested and hungry. Now, even though this is 'fast food' the vibe within the walls of 800 Degrees is 100% fast casual. From self-serve soda fountains ceramic plates and metal forks, the environment screams fast casual. Read more here.

PHOTO CREDIT: USATODAY.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: USATODAY.COM

Posted on November 5, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Zoe's Kitchen Shows Fast Casual How To Do Healthy

PHOTO CREDIT: NORTHHILLSRALEIGH.COM

PHOTO CREDIT: NORTHHILLSRALEIGH.COM

Fast Casual has exploded over the recent years, luring in consumers with the fresh prepared options that Millennials crave. Mediterranean pita sandwiches, hummus, kabobs and tabouli flood the menu of Zoe's kitchen, and with 125 locations in 15 states, "Zoe's us 'one of the best-in-history up-and-coming restaurant concepts... Zoe's early stage momentum and store-level profitability is outpacing Chipotle and Panera's early-stage results." Analysts report. Year-over-year sales have grown at exponential rates, clocking 45% increases in each of the past four quarters. Read more about Zoe's here.

Posted on November 3, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual.

Fine Dining Chefs Are Jumping Into The Fast Casual Scene

PHOTO CREDIT: FAT NOODLE

PHOTO CREDIT: FAT NOODLE

We are starting to see a trend of fine dining chefs who are developing casual dining concepts. Recently, Saison's Joshua Skenes partnered with Umami Burger's Adam Fleishman to create Fat Noodle, a fast casual restaurant. Michelin-starred chef Daniel Patterson partnered with street food guru Roy Choi to develop the fast-food concept Loco'l. So why are so many fine dining chefs trying to get into the fast casual market? Chef José Andrés says that chefs "need to be [better at] influencing how to feed the many." Many people cannot afford Michelin Star restaurants but the chefs of these restaurants have the ability to create affordable, quality, fast casual concepts that everyone can enjoy. Having fast casual restaurants also allows these fine dining chefs to cook other food that they may love, but cannot put on their tasting menus. To learn more about these chefs' insights as well as the new fast casuals that will be hitting the market, click here.

Posted on October 31, 2014 and filed under Fast Casual Nation.