While fast casual’s collective sales may be slowing due to segment maturation, money is still going into the segment. These four concepts are rising above the projected slowdown with significant outside funding specifically to ramp up their unit counts. While they aren’t similar in menu (outside of a focus on quality ingredients), sourcing or layout, they’ve all managed to attract investors for their perceived ability to expand.
Philadelphia-based, 15 units
Positioning itself as a “Philly startup,” Honeygrow has opened 14 units in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and Maryland since launching in 2012. In November, it closed on a $20 million round of funding led by Miller Investment Management (which previously raised $25 million for Honeygrow) to aid in expansion and further develop its proprietary touchscreen ordering system. Customers paying by card (counter ordering is available for cash-carrying diners) use the screens to create their own stir-fry or salad, or choose from a signature option such as sour-cherry barbecue stir-fry or roasted wheat berry salad, all with housemade sauces. There’s also the option to create Honeybars—parfait-like snacks featuring a choice of fruit, honey or maple syrup and toppings like chocolate chips and granola.
Promoting the community, restaurants feature local artwork, local materials such as reclaimed wood and a chalkboard listing local ingredients, while touchscreens display images of the surrounding area. To stay competitive as an employer as well as with customers, Honeygrow also promotes its company culture by touting its policy to promote from within.
Austin, Texas; 5 units
The Korean-Mexican mashup landed a $600,000 deal on an episode of “Shark Tank” to help it expand beyond its four brick-and-mortars and three food trucks, all of which are cashless. Chi’lantro hits on two hot cuisines with items such as Korean tacos, Gangnam wings and kimchi fries. It also runs a catering division, and is looking to enter the retail space with kimchi and sauces.
Dos Toros Taqueria
New York City, 12 units
Calling it “one of the most exciting restaurant concepts in the industry today,” GrowthPoint Partners (including Chopt’s CEO and Mendocino Farms’ founders) invested $10 million, saying it was drawn to the brand’s scratch-made Mission-style Mexican offerings, focus on transparency and throughput metrics.
Chicago, 3 units
The growth of Aloha Poke, launched in March, attracted a sizable investment in October. The customizable poke bowl concept serves a mostly raw menu, so it can operate in small footprints; two of its units are in food halls. Founder Zach Friedlander told Crain’s that each unit is on track to bring in seven-figure revenues this year.