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The Future 50 2009

Bankruptcy filings, dismal quarterly reports and lackluster industry averages might have you thinking there’s just not much growth to be had out there. We beg to differ. And so do the 2009 Future 50, the fastest growing chains with sales between $25 million and $50 million as identified by Technomic, Inc.

This year’s crop of rising-star restaurant companies includes examples from almost every type of menu concept, from seafood to Mexican; barbecue to coffee; Asian to ice cream. They range in size from five-unit steak-based Redstone American Grill, which grew 17.5 percent last year to $38 million in sales; to 173-unit Pita Pit, which grew its sales by nearly 32 percent and added 21 new units.

Nine of the Future 50 saw sales increase by 40 percent or more last year, and nearly half achieved growth of 20 percent or more.

Nobody, however, did it better than No. 1 on the list. South Florida-based Salad Creations, which crossed the 50-unit milestone and hit an estimated $35 million in sales, a whopping 79.5 percent more than in 2007.

Founded in 2003 by self-described serial entrepreneur Jeff Levine, Salad Creations hit a lot of the right buttons out of the gate in terms of positioning for rapid growth. On the business side, concept simplicity—a 1,500-square-foot fast-casual format with no grills, griddles, fryers or hoods required—ensures low-cost, quick entry for franchisees. And a franchise system built on area developers has proven fast and effective in establishing Salad Creations as a segment leader.

On the consumer side, a healthful, highly customizable menu and an emerging commitment to sustainable ingredients and “green” operations hold out strong appeal to Levine’s core demographic of educated, upper-income consumers. Smart promotions, including a recent “5 for $5” offering (a create-your-own salad with five toppings for $5) have helped to keep those customers engaged and traffic counts up.

While all of that has worked in the company’s favor, Levine, who recently turned 40, admits that growing in the current economic climate is no cakewalk. “The top challenge now is finding franchisees who are both qualified and can get financing,” he says. “Financing has become incredibly tough and tedious. We’re looking at bringing in some money to do self-financing as that may be the only way we’ll be able to continue to grow the way we want to.”

The way Levine wants to grow is real-estate dependent. “We’ve achieved our goal of quickly becoming the segment leader. Now we want to focus on securing only A+ locations. We could be a 1,500-unit chain, but I’d rather have 500 units in A+ locations than 1,500 in B locations. With players like Starbucks and Quiznos slowing down, more prime spots are available and affordable. Looking ahead, that’s one more thing that’s working in our favor.” –D.T.

Key:
S: 2007 Systemwide sales/% change
U: Total units open/% change
A: Average unit volume/% change
rankings based on percent change in sales
all percent changes vs. 2006
*Technomic estimate

1. Salad Creations
Margate, FL
S: $35 million*/79.5%* 
U: 53/43.2% 
A: $800,000/0.0%*

2. Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery
Phoenix, AZ
S: $40 million*/60% 
U: 14/75% 
A: $3.9 million*/-2.5%

A modern American, Scottish, Irish and English sports pub, the Tilted Kilt brings its motto “A cold beer never looked so good” to life with Hooters-esque servers in short plaid kilts, matching halters and midriff-baring blouses. Founded in 2003 by Mark DiMartino, the company began franchising two years ago and brought on Schlotsky’s veteran Ron Lynch to lead the effort. The Kilt had 14 units at the end of ‘08 and opened its 20th unit in May.

3. Which Wich?
Dallas, TX
S: $36.75 million/59.8%
U: 67/42.6%
A: $650,000/-3.7%

No salads. No soups. Just “superior” toasted ‘wiches served in more than 50 varieties (plus chips, beverages, fresh-baked cookies and hand-dipped shakes). When founder Jeff Sinelli set out to create a new kind of quick service sandwich shop, he kept the menu focused yet highly customizable. An interactive ordering system using pre-printed menus on paper sandwich bags ensures guests get custom-made sandwiches exactly how they like them. All sandwiches are sold for one set price.

4. Organic To Go
Seattle, WA
S: $25 million*/57.2%
U: 34/47.8%
A: $750,000*/0.0%

Founded in 2004 by Jason Brown, Organic to Go went public in 2007. It’s hailed as the nation’s only fast-casual chain to be USDA Organic certified. Formats include retail cafes, business delivery and corporate catering and branded grab-and-go kiosks. On the menu are classic American entrees, artisan baked goods, sandwiches and wraps, soups and stews, vegetarian meals, and organic and natural beverages and snacks. The company operates in Washington, California and Washington, D.C.

5. Straw Hat Pizza
San Ramon, CA
S: $40 million/50.9%
U: 58/38.1%
A: $680,000/4.6%

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, Straw Hat has long held to its original family-friendly, community-focused, California pizza concept. It’s a strategy that’s served the company well, especially during the recession, says president Jonathan Fornaci, who was brought on in 2006 to kick start growth. He’s taking Straw Hat outside of its West Coast territory to expand nationally and internationally. Within two years, it should reach 150 units and will likely go public within two to three years.

6. Bajio Mexican Grill
American Fork, UT
S: $36.5 million/47.8%
U: 41/13.9%
A: $975,000/2.6%

The Utah-based Bajio Mexican Grill dishes up “inspired Mexican” food that is made from scratch. The fast-casual menu features marinated meats, “amazing flavors” and gentle spicing that appeals to more sophisticated palates. Mexican tiles, copper pots and other artisan touches enhance the décor. Owned by Fred De Luca’s Franchised Brands, LLC, Bajio is scouting lifestyle centers and downtown sites for new locations. Currently, there are 45 total units in 12 states.

7. Genghis Grill
Dallas, TX
S: $29.5 million*/47.5%
U: 29/45%
A: $1.2 million*/0.0%

Mongolian Barbeque restaurants have been popular for years, but the 29-unit Ghengis Grill appears to have adapted the cuisine perfectly for a fast-casual concept. Using what the chain calls an “interactive style of exhibition cooking,” customers select an array of meats, oils, vegetables and sauces and then hand them over to a “Grill Master” who transforms the ingredients into a meal.

8. Cafe Rio Mexican Grill
Salt Lake City, UT
S: $25 million*/47.1%
U: 21/16.7%
A: $1.3 million*/0.0%

You won’t find a microwave or freezer at any of Café Rio’s 21 units. The Rio Grande-style Mexican restaurant prides itself on the freshness of its made-to-order meals. Employees arrive early to prepare homemade tortillas and squeeze a daily average of nine cases of limes—a crucial ingredient. Bob and Kathleen Nilsen bought the chain in 2004 and have since more than doubled its size, moving beyond the Utah border into Arizona and Nevada.

9. Fish City Grill
Addison, TX
S: $29.2 million/46%
U: 28/40%
A: $1.3 million/4%

In 1995, Bill Bayne bought his neighborhood coffee shop in Dallas’ Snider Plaza and transformed it into an oyster bar. The original restaurant eventually spawned three seafood chains that are now operated by Neighborhood Ventures Inc., of which Bayne is president. The casual Fish City Grill, a cozy, seaport-themed concept that locates in upscale neighborhoods, is the most widespread, with 28 units in six states.

10. Hurricane Grill & Wings
Riviera Beach, FL
S: $35.2 million/38.0%
U: 30/20.0%
A: $1.2 million/2.1%

Its uniquely savory chicken wings “flowing with flavor” and served in a family-friendly atmosphere have attracted a solid customer base for Hurricane Grill & Wings. The chain has aggressive national expansion plans and is looking to New York, Arizona, Ohio, Georgia, Michigan and California to develop new units. Come October, 2009 units are slated to open in New York and Arizona respectively. A re-branding design for interiors and menus moves away from a tropical theme to a “Don Mackin” beach paradise look.

11. ZPizza
Newport Beach, CA
S: $49 million/36.1%
U: 87/26.1%
A: $615,000/2.5%

While gourmet pizza with an array of unusual toppings is commonplace these days, it was a novelty in 1987 when Sid Fanarof opened the first ZPizza in Laguna Beach, California. The handcrafted pies, which boasted such health-conscious ingredients as chicken with salsa and artichokes and capers, caught on quickly. Today, the multi-unit chain, which prefers high-profile lifestyle centers and metropolitan retail centers, serves oversize salads and sandwiches as well as pizza. And pies can be made with alternatives like soy cheeses, gluten-free crusts and certified organic ingredients.

12. Scooter’s Coffeehouse
Omaha, NE
S: $31.8 million*/35.1%
U: 76/38.2%
A: $485,000*/2.1%

Scooter’s Coffeehouse began expanding from its original Bellevue, Nebraska, coffee shop in 2001, and the premium coffee franchise has since opened more than 70 units in eight states. There’s no shortage of competition in the coffee industry, so Scooter’s distinguishes itself by focusing on premium products—freshly roasted beans, carefully crafted specialty drinks and top-notch syrups and flavorings. President Tom Townsend aims for Scooter’s
to become one of the top 10 specialty coffee franchises in the country—already, he says, it’s cracked the top 15.

13. Nancy’s Pizza
Tinley Park, IL
S: $32 million/33.3%
U: 46/35.3%
A: $700,000/0.0%

Nancy and Rocco Palese opened their first pizza parlor in Chicago shortly after emigrating from Turin, Italy, in 1969. They initially featured thin crust pizza, which was popular at the time, but business didn’t really take off until Rocco introduced a unique stuffed pizza, modeled after his family’s recipe for scarciedda, an Easter specialty cake. After transforming Nancy’s Pizza into a Chicago legend, Nancy and Rocco in 1992 sold the business to Chicago Franchise Systems. The chain has since expanded well beyond the Chicago region, with units as far away as Georgia.

14. Carolina Ale House
Raleigh, NC
S: $38.5 million*/32.8%
U: 11/37.5%
A: $4.05 million*/-3.6%

Carolina Ale House is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year with a series of parties, drink specials and other events. The group of community-oriented sports bars expanded throughout the Raleigh region in recent years and into Florida and South Carolina, racking up an array of “best bar” prizes along the way. The Moshakos family, which owns and runs parent company LM Restaurants, aims for the chain to offer a family-friendly, sports-themed environment.

15. Redstone American Grill
Wayzata, MN
S: $38 million/31.9%
U: 5/25%
A: $7.6 million/5.6%

A Redstone American Grill opening in Chevy Chase, Maryland, this summer will be the sixth unit in this chain of casual fine-dining restaurants spread across five states. Founder Dean Vlahos built the 10-year-old chain on his vision of an upscale, casual experience aimed at Baby Boomers. The restaurants’ “spirited, rugged and romantic” ambience is key to their identity: Redstone’s units boast large stone fireplaces, granite bars, lots of wood and open exhibition kitchens with rotisserie and wood-burning grills.

16. Stir Crazy
Chicago, IL
S: $47 million/30.6%
U: 14/27.3%
A: $3.8 million/5.6%

The heavy-hitters behind Stir Crazy like to bring the “kitchen right out into the dining room” for an eating experience like no other. A pan-Asian concept with “bold and delicious” flavors, the chain also features 35 wines by the glass that go well with the Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes. With 14 full-service units, the most recent opening in Wisconsin, the chain is ready to bring their unique style to Florida and Kansas. Special events, cooking demos and an interactive Web site help fuel the brand.

17. Firkin Pubs
Markham, Ontario, Canada
S: $28 million*/30.2%
U: 17/112.5%
A: $2.665 million*/0.0%

Each of the more than 45 units in the Firkin group is a traditional English pub, but each one is also unique, with its own Firkin-themed name (e.g. The Firkin and the Fox, Frog and Firkin) and distinct touches that make it fit into its neighborhood. The chain was founded in Ontario, Canada, and has spread widely across the U.S. as well, with locations from Florida to British Columbia. Firkin has 17 units open in the U.S., with 180 more pubs in development throughout North America. 

18. Moxie Java
Boise, ID
S: $26 million*/30%
U: 63/50%
A: $500,000*/0.0%

Moxie Java serves all the coffee drinks you’d find at a typical coffee shop—plus, at many of its 63 units, a wide range of food, from quiches and wraps to a proprietary gelato-style ice cream. In 2006, the chain introduced its Moxie Java Bistro concept, which allows franchisees to give the Moxie Java shop a fast-casual twist with made-to-order breakfast, lunch and dinner items.

19. Rotelli Pizza, Pasta, Perfect
Coconut Creek, FL
S: $36 million/28.6%
U: 36/16.1%
A: $1 million/9.2%

Joseph Bilotti opened his first Rotelli’s as a “neighborhood family Italian restaurant” in 1999.
The pasta menu includes baked ziti, linguini and clam sauce and penne alla vodka—all pure Italian-American in execution—and the pizza is a hand-tossed New York-style pie. Current units are concentrated in Florida with others scattered in Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania. New outposts in North Carolina are in the planning stages.

20. HuHot Mongolian Grill
Missoula, MT
S: $48 million/27.3%
U: 31/24.0%
A: $1.7 million/1.5%

It is all about choice at this Montana-born chain. The restaurant’s guests choose from a
varied selection of freshly prepared meat, seafood, noodles, vegetables and sauce and then watch as cooks sizzle their creations on flat Mongolian-style grills. The HuHot chain has “captured territories” in 14 states and has garnered international interest from Dubai and Mongolia. They ask their franchisees to “fight against mediocrity in casual dining” so as to lend an inspired experience to guests.

21. Sushi Samba
New York, NY
S: $40 million*/25%
U: 6/50%
A: $8 million*/0.0%

Sushi Samba offers a stylish tri-cultural blend of Brazilian, Peruvian and Japanese culinary traditions. The menu includes items like tuna tataki, sashimi ceviche and South American beef maki rolls, and the restaurants’ funky and exotic ambience matches the food’s flair. The chain started in Manhattan in 1999, and has since expanded to major cities including Miami, Las Vegas and Tel Aviv. Later this year, the company plans to launch Sugar Cane, a Sushi Samba spinoff that spokesperson Joanne Cisowska describes as a more casual
concept with lower prices.

22. Extreme Pizza
San Francisco, CA
S: $33.5 million/23.6%
U: 38/15.2%
A: $935,000/-1.1%

“Life’s too short for mediocrity” says this chain, which doles out specialty pizzas like the “Adrenaline Rush,” “X-factor” hot wings and monster subs. This philosophy shines through in each of their 45 extreme sports-themed sites located primarily in the West and Southwest regions of the country, with one location in Ireland. Franchising efforts are targeted nationally and in the U.K. and Ireland.

23. Nature’s Table Café
Orlando, FL
S: $37.5 million/21.0%
U: 88/25.7%
A: $485,000/2.1%

Back in 1977 when Dick Larsen opened the first Nature’s Table Café, smoothies were a revelation to Floridians.  So perhaps it’s no surprise that the mall-based, healthy QSR concept has legs. The first franchise opened in 1986, and shortly thereafter Nature’s Table ventured into the office building market with an array of breakfast treats, paninis, wraps, soups and salads. “Sensible food that tastes great” is the concept’s mantra.

24. Nestle Toll House Café by Chip
Richardson, TX
S: $30.8 million/20.8%
U: 107/12.6%
A: $305,000/-1.6%

Hot and iced Nescafe coffees accompany Nestle brand cookies, muffins, cakes, scones, croissants and some 45 other branded baked goods, ice cream and fruit smoothies. Catering of items such as sheet cookie cakes is more than 25 percent of the business, which was founded in 2000 by Ziad Dalal and Doyle Liesenfelt. Unit formats range from regional mall kiosks to in-line to street-side cafes. Franchisor Crest Foods Inc. franchises all but one unit—which is corporately owned—to franchisees in some 30 states.

25. Panchero’s Mexican Grill
Coralville, IA
S: $46 million/19.5%
U: 55/10.0%
A: $875,000/6.1%

Rodney Anderson and his father, Thomas, founded Panchero’s in 1992 with two units in Midwestern college towns. They later went on to expand to the suburbs. Their signature offering—fresh, made-to-order tortillas—are the foundation for the concept’s burritos, quesadillas and tacos. Panchero’s units have no freezers, microwaves or fryers on the premises. Plans are in the works to open 10 more Panchero’s within the next year.

26. Kabuki Japanese Restaurant
Burbank, CA
S: $43 million/19.4%
U: 13/18.2%
A: $3.6 million/-1.4%

Since 1991, Kabuki’s mission has been to be the “best Japanese restaurant” in southern California with innovative design and enticing menus. They have invested in differentiating their beverage program with a Master Sake Sommelier.

27. Pizza Patrón
Dallas, TX
S: $31 million/19.2%
U: 85/21.4%
A: $410,000/2.5%

For more than 20 years, Pizza Patrón has been committed to celebrating the diversity of the Latin culture and lifestyle in its stores. While most companies merely market to Hispanics, the entire Pizza Patrón brand is centered on creating a unique experience that respects and honors the multifaceted traditions and heritage found within Latin life. Today, there are over 90 locations in six states.

28. Oberweis Dairy
Aurora, IL
S: $34 million/18.1%
U: 47/30.6%
A: $825,000/3.1%

The third and fourth generations of the Oberweis family run the expanding company that began in 1927 as a milk delivery business in the days before reliable refrigeration. Oberweis still delivers its milk in glass bottles, but the café division, which debuted in 1951 as a retail store with an ice cream fountain, now operates throughout the Chicago and St. Louis markets and parts of Indiana and Michigan. Not currently franchising, the company prefers to own its land and freestanding buildings. Newest of some 40 ice cream flavors are cherry pie a la mode and key lime pie.

29. Pita Pit
Huntington Beach, CA
S: $47 million/17.5%
U: 173/13.8%
A: $290,000/1.8%

“Fresh thinking and healthy eating” at the Pita Pit means lean grilled meats, fresh vegetables and light, Lebanese-style pita bread. Founded in Kingston, Ontario, in 1995, franchising began in 1997 and moved into the United States by 1999. Current Pita Pit USA CEO Jack Riggs and a team of investors bought the chain in 2005 and have dozens of stores in development.

30. Glory Days Grill
S: $37.5 million/17.2%
U: 22/15.8%
A: $1.8 million/-0.8%

This sports bar and grill spans three states and emphasizes community involvement through team sponsorships, fundraising efforts and cartoon programming for the kids. The menu features regional standards like ribs, Philly cheese steaks, pasta dishes and salads. Founders Jeff Newman, Richard Danker and Robert Garner set out to create a neighborhood restaurant, with reasonable prices and a focus on the positive attributes of sports.

31. Wild Wing Café
Mt. Pleasant, SC
S: $36 million/16.1%
U: 33/13.8%
A: $1.15 million/2.7%

Cecil and Dianne Crowley sought a leisurely lifestyle change in Hilton Head after a career in advertising. Finding casual restaurants lacking after a hard day of golf, they opened their first Wild Wing Café in 1990, featuring cold beer and hot chicken wings. Wing flavors have grown to 32, and today’s broad menu includes burgers, sandwiches, ribs and signature onion rings. Local bands, trivia and karaoke nights add to the festive atmosphere. Mainly in the Southeast, the company is expanding to Michigan and possibly other Midwest states.

32. Golden Spoon Frozen Yogurt
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA
S: $49 million/15.3%
U: 95/13.1%
A: $550,000/-4.3%

The self-proclaimed “ice cream lovers’ frozen yogurt,” Golden Spoon has continually refined recipes and opened new locations to develop the “best frozen yogurt outposts in the world.” The chain claims it sells more frozen yogurt in southern California than any other concept. Units are currently located in California, Alabama, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Tokyo. The company is looking to bring its frozen premium product to other states, with 120 additional sites scheduled for development by the end of 2009.

33. Colton’s Steakhouse & Grill
Little Rock, AR
S: $46 million/15%
U: 21/16.7%
A: $2.4 million/3.2%

This 13-year-old casual steakhouse chain with an American West theme prides itself on food quality, in spite of encouraging peanut lovers to discard shells on the floor. Signature dishes such as the Del Rio ribeye with chipotle butter and the marinated Hawaiian ribeye help to boost check averages to $15 at dinner and $11 at lunch. Growth goals are opening three to five units a year in the central states with multi-unit developers. Bobby Fain, president and founder, has been in the casual steakhouse business since he became a Bonanza franchisee in 1966.

34. Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café
San Francisco, CA
S: $35.5 million/14.1%
U: 12/20.0%
A: $3.3 million/-0.8%

Palm trees and lilting music evoke the islands at Tommy Bahama’s Tropical Café, geared for the well-heeled resort crowd with its signature cocktails and seafood items. But in Newport Beach, California, the chain recently revamped its concept to fit a “more local market” with a lunch menu and lower price points. Tommy Bahama’s now has locations in five ocean-touching states plus Nevada.

35. Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
Agoura Hills, CA
S: $33 million/13.8%
U: 12/19.1%
A: $2.9 million/3.6%

Wood Ranch now operates 13 “premium-casual” full-service restaurants in California; the newest addition recently opened in the city of Ventura. They “do it better” by slow roasting their tri-tip, ribs and chicken over-night, then heating up the grill and slathering on the sauce in a unique, two-step cooking process. The first Wood Ranch was a “cocktail napkin business plan” dreamt up by Eric Anders and Ofer Shemtov, who met while working in Los Angeles restaurants.

36. Iggy’s Sports Grill
Salt Lake City, UT
S: $25 million/13.6%
U: 12/20%
A: $2.1 million/2.4%

Founded in 1996 by 42-year veteran restaurateur Hersch Ipaktchian, Iggy’s accompanies its 10-page casual dining menu with televised professional sports. Entrees, priced from $5.95 to $17.95, range from burgers, pizza and enchiladas to ribeye steaks and prime rib. House-made root beer and lemonade supplement the full bar menu as the chain embarks on its “second dozen” units, adding Idaho to Utah. A lighter menu section of smaller portions for smaller prices is a new addition.

37. Daily Grind Coffee House & Café
Winchester, VA 
S: $28 million/13.4%
U: 68/19.3%
A: $445,000/-1.1%

Inspired by Seattle coffee houses when it debuted in Virginia in 1995, The Daily Grind has morphed into a bakery-café model, serving breakfast pastries and egg sandwiches and lunch to accompany an ever-expanding line of coffee drinks. Beverages continue to be the primary attraction, including espresso and drip coffees, chai tea lattes, Italian sodas, smoothies and steamed apple cider. A relaxed atmosphere is an integral part of the concept.

38. SanSai Japanese Grill
Los Angeles, CA
S: $26 million/13%
U: 34/9.7%
A: $825,000/0.0%

This contemporary Japanese grill, which debuted in Glendale, California, in 2002, is an East meets West fast-casual cafe, concentrated in California and Missouri. Its healthful, made-from-scratch menu ranges from sushi, sashimi and rolls to grilled fish and meats, tempura, bowls, soups and salads. The open kitchen with chefs at work is a focal point. Outdoor seating usually is provided.

39. Indigo Joe’s Sports Pub & Restaurant
Laguna Hills, CA
S: $32.7 million/12.8%
U: 22/15.8%
A: $1.56 million/0.6%

Sports for everyone from fanatics to casual fans sets the tone at Indigo Joe’s, with a video wall, large plasma screens and table speaker boxes on request. Suited to families with young children as well as nights out with the guys or gals, Indigo Joe’s offers a broad menu of casual favorites including melts, fish and chips, burgers, Mexican specialties, salads and other lighter items. A full bar includes a wide selection of cleverly named martinis, margaritas and mai tais. The company has been franchising since 2002.

40. Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
Charlotte, NC
S: $43.5 million/11.5%
U: 15/25.0%
A: $3.2 million/-2.3%

Created by Dennis Thompson, Firebirds currently has 17 locations nationwide and looks forward to further growth in 2010. Its contemporary yet inviting setting sports dark woods, bold colors, an exposed kitchen and stone fireplaces. The aroma of steaks, chicken, seafood and burgers grilling over open hardwood flames enhances the ambience. Private label wines and signature cocktails are available to pair up with food selections

41. Amato’s Pizza
Portland, ME
S: $25.5 million*/10.9% change
U: 34*/9.7% change
A: $775,000*/0.0% change

Founded in 1902 by an immigrant selling fresh rolls filled with ham, cheese and vegetables
to fellow dockworkers, Amato’s developed an expanded menu including grilled sandwiches, pastas, pizzas, calzones and salads plus the original signature item, The Italian. Today it reaches beyond Maine into Vermont and New Hampshire and is exploring opportunities in Massachusetts and upstate New York, says Franchising Director Jeff Perkins.

42. Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse
Beachwood, OH
S: $25.5 million*/10.9%
U: 12/33.3%
A: 2.6 million*/0.0%

Units of this upscale steak/seafood operation, which features Japanese beef, are clustered in the Midwest with two in Florida and one in Buffalo. The average tab is $50 to $65. A suburban Detroit life center is targeted for 2010. Plans call for one or two units every 12 to 18 months. A stylish new, lower-priced concept, Jekyll’s Kitchen, an American grill, could become a growth vehicle.

43. Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza
La Jolla, CA
S: $31 million*/10.7%
U: 18/28.6%
A: 2 million*/-2.5%

Sami Ladeki brought a wood-fired oven to the San Diego area in 1989 and has been making artisan thin crust pizzas such as Dutch Goat Cheese and Brie with Truffle Oil ever since. Other menu items include pastas, tacos and stylish entrees. This year, he halted expansion despite having sites in negotiation, but is looking again to expand.

44. Hard Times Café
Springfield, VA
S: $28.8 million*/10.6%
U: 17/13.3%
A: 1.9 million*/0.8%

Fred and Jim Parker’s grandfather, a trail drive cowboy and chili aficionado, introduced them to chili as children. Their first chili-centric unit opened in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1983 when Fred, a graphic artist, created a restaurant from a design project. The chain, described as “Depression era chili parlors” with a pool hall in the back, is franchised by F&K Management. A new unit is opening in Hagerstown, Maryland.

45. Dutch Bros.
Grant’s Pass, OR
S: $42 million*/9.1%
U: 146/21.7%
A: 300,000*/-1.6%

This 17-year-old West Coast, Dutch-themed drive-through coffee concept opened a fourth Arizona site in Phoenix and another in Tigard, Oregon, recently. The chain interacts with customers through Facebook, which “creates a community in cyberspace” and is useful for promotions and “sustaining our culture of ‘love all, serve all,’” says Brian Maxwell, vice president of growth. Plans call for four or five new stores in existing markets.

46. Stevi B’s The Ultimate Pizza Buffet
Atlanta, GA
S: $28 million*/7.7%
U: 35/25%
A: 915,000*/1.7%

Stevi B’s pizza buffet concept offers specialty pizzas such as Mac ‘n Cheese or Killer Baked Potato, along with the more traditional. Units seat 144 to 200 and sport a big game room, attracting a family clientele. Purchased last year by Argonne Capital, an IHOP franchisee, Stevi’s re-branded with a new logo. This year’s challenge has been finding lenders for franchisees, says Franchising Sales Director Melissa Farlin.

47. Winger’s Grill and Bar
Salt Lake City, UT
S: $44.6 million/7.3%
U: 39/11.4%
A: 1.2 million/0.6%

Brothers Eric and Scott Slaymaker were no newcomers to franchising when they opened Winger’s in 1993; they had already owned T.G.I. Friday’s and Tony Roma’s restaurants. Their first Winger’s opened in Bountiful, Utah, inside a 1940s diner, where they upgraded chicken wings from an appetizer to an entrée. There are now Winger’s in eight states, with plans for expansion to Kentucky and Puerto Rico in 2009.

48. Spring Creek Barbecue
Arlington, TX
S: $30.5 million*/7%
U: 27/12.5%
A: 1.2 million*/-0.8

Nearly 30 years ago Spring Creek Barbecue began serving hickory smoked meats with its secret sauce, giant loaded baked potatoes and cooked-to-order okra. Two new Houston units are in the works with three a year planned through 2012. Entry into Phoenix is set for 2010 and Austin/San Antonio in ’11. Retention is high with management incentives such as a truck and luxury suite tickets to Texas Rangers games

49. Macado’s Restaurant & Bar
Roanoke, VA
S: $27 million*/3.8%
U: 16/14.3%
A: 1.8 million*/-2.7%

How often does a menu look like the restaurant’s specialty? At Macado’s, the signature items are overstuffed deli sandwiches, and the menu—overstuffed with dozens of sandwiches, salads, quesadillas, nachos, wings and more—conjures them up. A new unit opened in Bristol, Tennessee and more are planned in Staunton and Harrisonburg, Virginia.

50. Stoney River Legendary Steaks
Roswell, GA
S: $37 million/2.8%
U: 12/20.0%
A: $3.4 million/-5.6%

“Steak. Seafood. Sanctuary.” is what Stoney River promises at its polished casual steakhouses. Every Stoney River is “a little bit unique,” but all serve warm hush puppies with honey butter, tempura lobster tails and, of course, steak—“comfort food dressed up in a sports jacket”—for a wide range of diners.

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