Chains that sprung onto the Top 500 list represent a wide swath of the industry. But most have one commonality: a marketing message and brand ethos pointed at today’s diners. This year, that comes in the form of DIY pizza places, better-for-you fast casuals or an unpretentious, approachable vibe wrapped in a full-service experience.
Rank: 473 | Sales: $51.5M | Units: 29
A name change from Modmarket didn’t stop growth for the fast casual, which focuses on being a market for the times with a “clean” menu at an affordable price point. The chain hits on a wide range of dietary demands such as vegan, gluten-free and carb-conscious.
Rank: 350 | Sales: $76.1M | Units: 58
The chicken shack blends Southern hospitality and scratchmade food, with a focus on the convenience of takeout and catering. Slim Chickens spent much of 2016 growing the brand, and it has extensive growth plans for the next decade.
Rank: 458 | Sales: $54M | Units: 48
The grab-and-go-meal concept brought in a new CEO and other execs, and focused on unifying its packaging and building an app as it grew. Still, Snap Kitchen has stuck to serving foods for a range of dietary needs across mealparts, and is looking to expand to grocery shelves.
Rank: 464 | Sales: $52.6M | Units: 98
The chain that boasts “damn good tacos” has built a cult following with its unusual offerings, taco-of-the-month promos, not-so-secret secret menu and variety of breakfast options. Torchy’s Tacos recently sold a minority interest to investment firm General Atlantic.
Rank: 412 | Sales: $63.7M | Units: 38
The chicken chain from South Africa, slinging its signature peri-peri sauce, spent the year expanding its presence in its initial East Coast markets and in the Chicagoland area. Nando’s focuses on giving each store an African vibe to tie the chain back to its roots.
Rank: 405 | Sales: $64.5M | Units: 42
A fast-casual chain known for its Americana decor, patriotic theme and mission to give back to soldiers, police, firefighters and first responders, Mission BBQ managed to grow its sales 94% in 2016, while increasing its unit count more than 100%.
Tupelo Honey Cafe
Rank: 491 | Sales: $48M | Units: 12
While working toward a “revival of Southern food” in a laid-back, friendly environment, Tupelo Honey does address modern trends as part of its concept, including responsible sourcing, craft cocktails and an emphasis on offering enhanced employee benefits.
Pie Five Pizza Co.
Rank: 461 | Sales: $53.3M | Units: 88
The DIY fast casual saw sales jump 110% in 2016, with units up 63%. But in an oversaturated landscape, it’s started to scale back and shut stores in several markets. Pie Five also snagged Smashburger exec Scott Crane as CEO to turn sales around.
Rank: 463 | Sales: $52.8M | Units: 29
One of the fastest-growing brands, Metro Diner, a family-dining concept, blends the traditional diner look with a menu that includes an array of Southern classics such as breakfast Benedicts, Charleston shrimp and grits, chicken and waffles, and meatloaf.