Here are some lessons to learn from chains that have had their highs and lows.
1. Daphne's California Greek
Year on The Future 50: 2006
Founded as Daphne's Greek Cafe in 1991, the chain filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2010 and was acquired by a private-equity firm. It rebranded as Daphne's California Greek in 2011. Daphne's was early to the healthy Mediterranean trend. But progressive and better-funded chains since have entered the space. Now Daphne's is touting its fresh California vibe.
2. Shake Shack
Years on The Future 50: 2012, 2013
When Shake Shack went public in January, investors immediately bid it up to $1.6 billion. Although shares dipped a bit, the stock traded at $90 in late May. Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group saw the potential of better burgers early on as people lined up at the first Shake Shack, a kiosk opened in 2004 in a city park. It expanded strategically so as not to lose the hospitality and quality that set it apart.
3. Seasons 52
Years on The Future 50: 2007, 2008, 2010
In 2015, Seasons 52 earned a Top 5 ranking on Technomic's list of consumers' favorite chains. Every item on the menu at Darden's 42-unit concept is under 475 calories—a perk that connects with guests seeking healthier fare in an upscale setting. As of March, same-store sales were up 5.2 percent year-over-year, a jump that some analysts attribute to Darden's refocus on its specialty restaurant group.
4. Bobby's Burger Palace
Year on The Future 50: 2014
When Bobby Flay launched his fast casual in 2008, celebrity-chef burger concepts were enough of a differentiator. Not so anymore, but Bobby's burger Palace is the only one that has expanded nationwide. At a fast-casual trends conference, Technomic's Darren Tristano said the Food Network star's concept has succeeded by appealing to a broad range of customers.
5. Crumbs Bake Shop
Years on The Future 50: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Crumbs grew in tandem with the wild popularity of cupcakes. But even as the trend fizzled, it continued to open stores, despite a drop in traffic. Last July, NASDAQ suspended trading of Crumbs' shares and the chain shuttered its 70-plus units. After filing for bankruptcy and being acquired by an investment group, some locations reopened with an expanded menu. To date, 26 Crumbs are operating.
6. Another Broken Egg Cafe
Years on The Future 50: 2012, 2013, 2015
This full-service chain is capitalizing on a growing daypart many are chasing: breakfast. In the past year, Another Broken Egg has upgraded operations, training, safety and technology. A new location is opening every three weeks. When the concept expands to more than 70 restaurants, founder Ron Green will consider going public, he says.
To view the full Future 50 list, click here.