Got a craving for cool, creamy frozen yogurt? Join the club. Judging by the 2010 future 50—ranking the 50 fastest growing chains with sales of $25 million to $50 million—it seems frozen yogurt couldn’t be hotter right now. three of the top five companies on the list are yogurt chains who together grew combined sales by 158 percent and units by 115 percent in 2009. None of them showed up on the future 50 radar screen last year.
Got a craving for cool, creamy frozen yogurt? Join the club. Judging by the 2010 Future 50—ranking the 50 fastest growing chains with sales of $25 million to $50 million—it seems frozen yogurt couldn’t be hotter right now. Three of the top five companies on the list are yogurt chains who together grew combined sales by 158 percent and units by 115 percent in 2009. None of them showed up on the Future 50 radar screen last year.
Separately, these fro-yo standouts’ growth ranged from No. 1 Menchie’s whopping 748 percent gain, to No. 2 Yogurtland’s 157.7 percent rise to No. 4 Red Mango’s 87.8 percent increase. Not bad for limited-menu concepts duking it out in a formerly ho-hum space in the middle of a recession.
Beyond frozen yogurt, the 2010 Future 50 rankings show the greatest gains made by varied menu chains, including No. 3 Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, where ’09 sales grew by nearly 97 percent, and pizza concepts, including Brixx Wood Fired Pizza, Happy’s Pizza and Monkey Joe’s. They grew 36.4 percent, 35.1 and 34.5 percent, respectively. While the industry as a whole contracted 3.5 percent in 2009, according to Technomic—which compiled the Future 50 listing again this year—all but two of the 50 companies finished the year in the black. For more than half of them, sales gains were in the double digits and more than two-thirds had double-digit unit growth.
Why yogurt? Why now?
Amit Kleinberger, Menchie’s: Because we love it! Because the market is ready. We are the only concept that was not a reaction to a popular food category, as Menchie’s was an original idea that was developed years before the frozen yogurt craze.
Phillip Chang, Yogurtland: Frozen yogurt is an affordable luxury that people can feel good about—it’s a healthier alternative than high-fat, high-sodium or caffeine-laden options, and with fruit, granola and nut topping choices, customers have complete control over what they choose to eat.
Dan Kim, Red Mango: The rapidly growing public interest in health and wellness has defined the holy grail of restaurants as food that is honestly healthy and truly delicious. Frozen yogurt, if made in the same ways real yogurt is made, is the holy grail of frozen desserts.
What do you see other concepts getting wrong that yours gets right?
AK: We are the only frozen yogurt concept that has a niche for family and children. Most frozen yogurt concepts focus only on people familiar with frozen yogurt. Menchie’s focuses on them, and people who don’t know about frozen yogurt, as our brand appeals to everyone.
PC: Our customers tell us, very clearly, how much they enjoy the different choices at Yogurtland, from sweet to tart, from crunchy dry toppings to fresh fruit. They can have exactly the same thing everyday, or they can change it up and have a different creation every time they come in.
DK: We’ve been rigid where it matters. We won’t compromise on our ingredients and recipes. At the same time, we’ve been aggressive and flexible where it matters. We’ve introduced a variety of platforms of delivery to get our product into the hands of our loyal customers. We’ve embraced kiosks, co-branding, and self-serve formats in addition to our traditional store footprints.
Three cups of yogurt, one from each of our cover concepts, are sitting on a table. What type of customer is going to choose yours over your competitors?
AK: Kids will choose our cup because of the bright colors and fun character logo. Health-conscious teens will choose our cup because our frozen yogurt contains live and active cultures. Families will choose our cup because Menchie’s is a community-oriented brand that focuses on making people smile. Adults will choose our cup because we offer proprietary flavors that are exclusive to Menchie’s, and because of the power of choice that our self-serve concept allows.
PC: The individual who cares about the quality of the food they eat, who wants it “their own way” and who appreciates a fun, friendly, interactive experience.
DK: The customer who chooses Red Mango over the others embraces our core brand values of health, taste and style. She cares not only about how great our frozen yogurt tastes, but also about how wholesome and nutritious it is. The customer will most likely
be 18-38 years old, predominantly female, active and very health-conscious.
What has been the most innovative thing you’ve done from an operations standpoint?
AK: Our store design. We offer an environment that is warm and friendly. We are the only frozen yogurt concept with a circular design which allows the customer the opportunity to choose his or her yogurt in a relaxed environment. We want our customers to take their time creating their own perfect mixes, and our store design allows for this.
PC: There are two equally important innovations at the heart of Yogurtland’s success. First, we brought the concept of personal customization and self-service to the yogurt category. Second has to be our decision to invest the majority of our resources in R&D.
DK: The transformation of our stores from just a yogurt shop into a yogurt and smoothie store. The innovation is in the manner in which we were able to formulate over 20 types smoothies using ingredients already in our stores.
S: 2009 Systemwide sales/% change
U: Total units open/% change
A: Average unit volume/% change
rankings based on percent change in sales all percent changes vs. 2009
1. Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt
S: $25.4 million/748%
Topping the 2010 list is Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, which made double-digit unit growth look like chicken feed. The Encino, California-based upstart grew from just three company owned units in 2008 to 32 last year, a nearly four-digit gain. By late summer, the chain expects to celebrate the opening of its 70th domestic store. By early 2011, the company plans to have franchised stores operating in Canada, Japan, Mexico, Australia and the U.K., as well.
Founded in 2007 by Danna and Adam Caldwell, whose first store in Los Angeles was financed with an SBA loan, maxed out credit cards and a little help from friends and family, Menchie’s is fro-yo with a twist. It’s a self-service, interactive, completely customizable experience where guests dispense their own yogurt from a choice of 12 to 14 flavors featured daily and move through lines to select their own toppings. As with the yogurts, they’re free to take as many and as much or as little as they want before heading to the cashier station. There, their concoction is weighed and they pay not by the cup size but by the ounce. Units offer both dine-in and outdoor space for guests to gather and enjoy what CEO Amit Kleinberger describes as a unique, family-centered experience. It starts with an inviting design, a friendly welcome and free yogurt samples and includes chalkboards for kids to write on as well as take-away branded merchandise like stickers and rub-on tattoos.
“Our core values are family, community and health and our strategy was to develop a brand that is significantly different within the QSR yogurt category. Families are our core demographic. Menchie’s is all about making them happy and becoming a neighborhood landmark in every market we’re in,” says Kleinberger, who joined the company in 2008. He’s helped establish a growth-oriented corporate infrastructure that now includes a full-scale R&D department for flavor development and quality assurance, vice presidents of marketing, operations and franchise development, and a director of local store development. Danna serves as president and director of brand and design and Adam as chief operating officer.
With its concept now proven, Kleinberger says Menchie’s is able to help smooth the way for current franchisees to secure financing to develop additional stores, as well as for new franchisees to get their first units open. “We’re seeing many banks step up their lending because of our success,” he says. “Our finance department has been able to secure five loans in the past few months for Menchie’s franchisees. That’s another key to our fast growth.”
S: $42 million/157.7%
A: $1.1 million/7%
The big draw at this QSR is a wide selection of tart and conventional frozen yogurts featuring live and active cultures. In addition to vanilla, fresh strawberry and other popular flavors, more exotic choices such as pomegranate, pistachio, mango and green tea are available—all of which can be customized with a variety of fruit, candy, nut and cereal toppings. The concept debuted in 2004 and has expanded through franchising. Units are inline or freestanding, with whimsical, bright interiors to create a cozy, fun atmosphere.
3. Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery
S: $47.8 million/96.7%
A: $2.5 million/4.2%
A Celtic theme permeates this full-service casual chain—down to the concept’s own registered Tartan plaid, hand-painted limericks and the scantily clad kilt-wearing servers and bartenders. The atmosphere encourages camaraderie through televised sports, dart and billiards games, a selection of cold brews and a mix of traditional British-style pub grub with American comfort food. The former includes Bangers and Mash, Shepherd’s Pie and Fish and Chips; the latter offers up chili, burgers and meatloaf. A recent rollout of spicier items includes Kilt Burner Wings and Pork Carnitas Tacos. Let’s Eat Inc. opened the first Tilted Kilt in Las Vegas in 2003, and the chain is now operated by Tilted Kilt Franchise Operating LLC.
4. Red Mango
S: $46 million*/87.8%
This fast-growing frozen yogurt concept was founded in Seoul, Korea, in 2002. The chain is operated and franchised domestically by Red Mango USA. Each outlet features a stylish red and white color scheme. Furnishings include red leather chaise lounge chairs, white tables and dark wood counters. The chain’s frozen yogurt is gluten-free, fat-free and all natural. Flavors include original tart, green tea and pomegranate. To these base flavors, customers may add toppings like chocolate pieces, cereal and fresh fruit. The chain has recently introduced smoothies and parfaits to boost lunchtime business. At 300 calories each, the products are advertised as a lunch alternative for the heath-conscious, with the tagline, “Re-Think Lunch.”
5. The Counter
Culver City, CA
S: $41 million/67.3%
A: $2.1 million*/0%
The Counter is an emerging chain of upscaled burger joints. The limited-service concept was founded with the goal of recreating the classic ’50s burger joint with a modern and chic twist. The Counter’s list of burger toppings is so long that the chain boasts some 312,120-plus burger configurations. The company prefers endcaps in upscale retail centers with heavy foot traffic and proximity to shopping and entertainment. Restaurants range from 2,700 to 3,000 square feet with seating for 110. Interior décor is modern and glossy, with brushed aluminum counters and seating. Jeff Weinstein, a former bar and nightclub owner, developed The Counter and opened its first location in 2003 in Santa Monica, California. A second location debuted in Palo Alto, California, in 2006, after which Weinstein launched a franchising program. The chain has since expanded nationally.
6. Genghis Grill
S: $48.1 million/63.1%
A: $1.4 million/2.1%
At this fast-casual Mongolian Barbeque concept, guests can customize their meals and watch as the food is prepared by trained “grill masters.” Customers choose from over 70 different ingredients to build their own “Genghis Bowls.” They first select a protein like chicken, sausage or calamari. They then pick seasonings, vegetables, sauces and a starch to round off the meal. A number of preset protein flavors such as Thai chicken and citrus beef are also available. The chain has an online ordering system to handle take-out orders. Genghis Grill Franchise Concepts LP, a subsidiary of the Dallas-based Chalak Group, runs the restaurants. The chain aims to have 100 units by 2011.
7. Cool Hand Luke’s Steakhouse/Saloon
S: $29 million*/61.1%
A: $2.4 million*/-4%
Cool Hand Luke’s Steakhouse/
Saloon is a full-service restaurant and bar that serves up USDA Choice steaks, ribs, chicken, seafood and Southwestern and Tex-Mex fare. Restaurants operate mostly in freestanding sites that are estimated to range from 3,500 to 4,500 square feet. There is seating for at least 200 at a combination of leather booths and chairs in the main dining area as well as overstuffed leather sofas, curved booths and bar stools in the saloon. Restaurants offer dine-in and takeout services for dinner daily; lunch is typically offered on Sundays. The chain is part of multiconcept operator Dynaco Food Concepts’ portfolio of concepts, which also includes Perko’s Cafe & Grill, Yukon Jack’s Log Cabin Dining and Huckleberrys.
8. Ocean Prime
S: $35 million/55.6%
A: $7 million/0%
For a contemporary American supper club experience that combines the best of both land and sea, diners head to this retro full-service restaurant. The broad menu focuses on steaks, fresh fish and other seafood specialties including a raw bar, but also features chicken, salads and a lighter lunch menu. Restaurants are typically freestanding units with seating for 400 and many offer outdoor patios with fireplaces. The Cameron Mitchell Restaurant group opened the first Ocean Prime in Mississippi in 2008 and has since opened more locations throughout Texas, Florida and Arizona.
9. Margaritas Mexican Restaurant
S: $43.9 million/46.5%
A: $2.3 million/.6%
John Pelletier began Margaritas Mexican Restaurant in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1985. By 1988, John’s brother Dave had joined the venture with the addition of two more locations. Seeking to procure a more authentic Mexican experience, the two brothers took their first trip to Mexico and began to hone the concept into what it is today, a full-service, casual-dining concept that specializes in freshly prepared Mexican fare served up in a family-friendly environment. With a vibrant atmosphere, the concept strives to educate patrons on the wealth of Mexican culture. Units vary significantly in décor, but all feature a collection of art created by Mexican artists showcased in the main dining room. Each year the chain also hosts a selection of visiting Mexican artists who explain their works to restaurant patrons and provide lectures at local schools.
10. Brixx Wood Fired Pizza
S: $27 million*/36.4%
A: $1.8 million*/-1.4%
Brixx Wood Fired Pizza is a fast-casual chain specializing in award-winning handcrafted pizzas prepared in wood-burning brick ovens. But customers flock to Brixx for more than just pizza—its extensive list of wines, microbrews and dozens of beers on tap make each location a viable evening destination for adults seeking a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Brixx units average 3,200–3,400 square feet with seating for approximately 45 guests. The company is selective about its sites, and generally seeks busy downtown areas or locations in proximity to high- traffic retail centers and sporting venues. Older interiors tend to resemble a cozy, homey neighborhood bar, while newer units are a bit more upscale. Nightly promotions target repeat customers with free dinners and discount beverages. In addition, Brixx offers drink specials and reward programs. Takeout and catering services are available. Eric Horsley, Barbara Bodford-Morgan and Jeff Van Dyke opened the first Brixx Wood Fired Pizza in 1998 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Steady growth has continued in and around Charlotte, as well as in South Carolina. In early 2007, Brixx formed a partnership with McAlister’s Deli co-founder Neil Newcomb to launch Brixx Franchise Systems LLC.
11. Happy’s Pizza
Farmington Hills, MI
S: $25 million*/35.1%
Happy’s Pizza debuted in Detroit, Michigan, in 1994. Additional locations followed throughout the state, eventually entering the Ohio and Illinois markets, expanding through franchising. The restaurant is a limited-service chain with a menu that goes beyond pizzas to include everything from barbecue ribs and fried chicken to seafood and burgers, wraps and sandwiches. The chain does particularly well with families with small children and with college-age young adults. Happy’s Pizza LLC is the privately held parent company.
12. Monkey Joe’s
S: $37 million*/34.5%
A: $1.1 million*/-4.5%
Kids are encouraged to “monkey around” at this chain of family-oriented eateries; inflatable play areas, interactive games, obstacle courses, party rooms and hearty portions of pizza and ice cream are the draw. Parents and older kids are taken into consideration as well with a lounge area that features flat-screen TVs and complimentary Wi-Fi access. Aside from the kid-friendly menu, concession areas offer soft drinks, slushies, candies, snacks, pizzas and coffee and water for the adults. Monkey Joe’s was founded in 2004 as Jump ’n Joes Parties and Play, and later acquired by its current parent company, Raving Brands Inc.
13. Pret A Manger
New York, NY
S: $29 million*/31.8%
A: $1.4 million*/0%
Pret a Manger, French for “ready to eat,” defines this grab-and-go concept, which offers an array of sandwiches, soups, salads and breakfast items in an automat-like setting. Each unit is outfitted with pressed aluminum floors and stainless-steel display cases, creating a clean, modern look. The food is made fresh daily and is preservative- and additive-free. Menu items include an organic egg salad sandwich with baby spinach and aged Parmesan cheese as well as an all-natural turkey club sandwich. Pret originated in the U.K., and U.S. outlets preserve the chain’s roots by hiring some European staff members. Even Pret’s baguettes are imported from a small town in France. The chain is set to open an outlet in Chicago this August but has no plans to franchise. McDonald’s sold its stake in Pret in 2008 to private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital.
14. Cafe Rio Mexican Grill
Salt Lake City, UT
S: $31 million*/24%
A: $1.3 million*/0%
Cafe Rio Mexican Grill is a limited-service chain featuring recipes inspired by the traditional cooking of Mexico’s Rio Grande region, southern Texas and New Mexico. The food is fresh and flavorful, and every tortilla is made from scratch and hand rolled. All sauces, salad dressings, salsas and guacamole are also prepared fresh daily. The company operates freestanding units that range from 1,500 to 3,000 square feet with seating for approximately 70. Customers order at a large counter and can watch their food being prepared in what the chain calls an “open Mexican marketplace kitchen” as they make their way through the line. Guests have the option of ordering online and/or taking their food to go; catering is also provided. Steve and Tricia Stanley opened the first Cafe Rio in 1997 in St. George, Utah. In late 2004, Bob Kaufman, with SKM/Apax Partners, purchased the six-unit chain. The first outlet outside of Utah opened in 2006 in Gilbert, Arizona, and was followed by an outlet in Las Vegas.
15. Scooter’s Coffeehouse
S: $39 million*/22.8%
Fussy coffee drinkers can choose from more than 30 premium coffee blends at this welcoming coffeehouse chain. And fussy franchisees have a choice of several formats. Small, double-drive-thru kiosks; inline models; endcap stores with drive-thrus; shopping mall formats; and specialty models designed for airports, sports complexes and other nontraditional venues. Scooter’s offers an informal, neighborhood space where patrons may relax and enjoy their special brew, espresso-based drink or blended coffee.
16. Pizza Patrón
S: $38 million/22.6%
This chain of pizza parlors offering Mexican-style pizzas has a strong connection to the Hispanic market. The concept’s tagline is “Mas Pizza. Menos Dinero.” Most outlets are located in majority Hispanic neighborhoods and the company is dedicated to “celebrating the diversity of the Latin culture and lifestyle.” The restaurants offer made-from-scratch pizzas in two sizes with a range of 14 different toppings, including chorizo and jalapeños. Each unit is equipped with fast-bake oven technology, allowing pizzas to be fully cooked in just over 3 minutes. The chain expanded into Atlanta in April and plans to continue opening units in that region. The newest prototype is a Quick-Service Pizza platform—a high-visibility takeout-only store constructed on a major highway in Dallas.
17. Bajio Mexican Grill
American Fork, UT
S: 43 million*/17.8%
Bajio Mexican Grill is a limited-service chain specializing in fresh Mexican in a fast-casual environment. The chain operates freestanding and inline prototypes, which range from 2,400 to 3,000 square feet. Interiors are designed to evoke the spirit of the Bajio region with old copper pots, bunches of dried chili peppers, mosaic tile displays and colorful murals. Dave Tuomisto opened the first Bajio Mexican Grill in Provo, Utah, in 2002, modeling the concept after Qdoba Mexican Grill. Franchising began in 2003. The chain was purchased by Franchise Brands, a subsidiary of Doctor’s Associates Inc.—the owner and operator of Subway restaurants—in 2005. In late 2009, Abundant Brands acquired the chain for an undisclosed sum.
18. Perry’s Steakhouse & Grille
S: $40 million*/17.6%
A: $6.5 million*/-4.4%
Perry’s is a high-end steakhouse with a hip, contemporary décor. The furnishings appeal to young upwardly mobile couples. In addition to a bright and stylish main dining room, each location has private rooms with names like “The Vault Room” and “The Vintage Room” for groups of 20 or fewer patrons. Further seating is available at the restaurant bars, which feature bold designs. The restaurants serve classic steakhouse fare such as filet mignon, New York strip steak, lump crab cakes, colossal fried shrimp and iceberg wedge salad. The steakhouse chain is a privately held brand and is part of the Perry’s Restaurant’s portfolio. Perry’s opened a new Dallas outlet in April of this year.
19. SanSai Japanese Grill
Los Angeles, CA
S: $30 million*/15.4%
This quickservice chain specializes in traditional Japanese cuisine served at a value price in a casual, friendly environment. Founders Dan Burns and Yon Suk Lipsky opened the first SanSai in 2002 in Glendale, California. The concept initially expanded in Southern California and entered Missouri in 2003. Billed as a fusion of Eastern food and spirit with American service and convenience, SanSai offers better-for-you salads, plates, bowls and sushi made with fresh ingredients. Signature dishes include Oriental salad, linguine salad with Thai dressing, spicy chicken plate with charbroiled marinated chicken, tempura bowl and seared ahi tuna sashimi salad.
20. Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop
Las Vegas, NV
S: $32 million*/14.7%
Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, “Simply the Best Since 1976,” is an emerging chain of limited-service sub sandwich shops. The quickservice concept offers up a variety of signature hot and cold subs made on fresh-baked rolls. The chain is privately held. Sandwich shops may inhabit all types of sites, but the chain is currently targeting high-traffic, high-visibility neighborhood retail centers or anchored retail centers from 1,000 to 1,500 square feet. Seating capacity ranges from 20 to 50. Nontraditional locations such as airports, hotels, convention centers and malls range from 650 to 1,200 square feet with limited or no seating. Takeout and catering services are available. Lois Margolet and her brother Alan opened their first restaurant in 1976 in Wilmington, Delaware. The sandwich shop was named Capriotti’s in honor of their grandfather, Philip Capriotti. Initially known for their fresh-roasted turkey, the concept eventually expanded its menu and added stores in the area.
21. Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
S: $49.5 million*/13.8%
A: $3.1 million*/-3.9%
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill is a full-service, upscale yet family-friendly eatery with a Rocky Mountain lodge theme. It features a variety of steaks and seafood prepared on a wood-fired grill, along with dishes that combine the bold flavors, spices and sauces typical of the Rocky Mountain region and Aspen, Colorado. Units—averaging 6,500 square feet with seating for approximately 200—are designed to be airy, warm, open spaces with rustic yet contemporary dining areas. Large stone fireplaces are the centerpieces of each unit’s bar area, and there is an open kitchen. Founded by owner Dennis Thompson in 2000, the first Firebirds location was launched in Charlotte, North Carolina, as Firebirds Rocky Mountain Grill.
22. Papa Romano’s
Bingham Farms, MI
S: $25 million*/13.6%
This family-oriented limited-service chain of carryout and delivery pizza parlors is known for its value-priced premium pizzas, pasta dinners and subs. Customers can pick specialty pizzas from the Select, Classic and Premier pizza menus or build-their-own creations with the crust of their choice. The restaurants are colorful and contemporary and can be constructed as carryout, delivery or sit-down operations. Papa Romano’s was started in 1970 and is a part of Papa Romano’s Enterprises Inc. The franchise recently celebrated it’s 40th anniversary with a golden-ticket giveaway promotion—providing free pizza and Pepsi for a year to one customer.
23. Hurricane Grill & Wings
S: $39.8 million*/12.9%
A: $1.3 million*/2%
Chris Russo established the first Hurricane Grill & Wings in Fort Pierce, Florida, in 1995. Over the next decade, Russo opened another two units before partnering with Michael Matakaetis, a former Dunkin’ Donuts executive. Russo and Matakaetis formed Hurricane Brand Holdings LLC in 2005. The team developed a franchising program that year and successfully sold 90 Hurricane franchises in 2006. In late 2008, the chain was acquired by Hurricane AMT, LLC. Since its inception, the chain has expanded across Florida. Hurricane Grill & Wings recently opened its first out-of-state unit in Arizona. The restaurant is a full-service varied-menu concept that features a beach-themed atmosphere with an eco-friendly focus. The company operates freestanding and inline sites that range from 1,800 to 2,200 square feet and seat up to 45 customers indoors and additional customers on outdoor patios.
24. Rosa Mexicano Restaurants
New York, NY
S: $25.9 million*/12.7%
A: $3.1 million*/-1.6%
This full service casual-dining chain serves modern Mexican cuisine in a festive and colorful setting. The restaurants are outfitted with handmade mosaics and panels and showcase an imposing orange and red terrazzo staircase as well as a 30-foot water wall made of blue glass tiles. Each location measures from 6,000 to 8,000 square feet and seats 175 to 200 patrons. Menu highlights include chicken tortilla pie, duck with blackberry sauce and shrimp brochette. An extensive range of alcoholic beverages, including signature margaritas, sangria and tequila are available to complement the food. The East Coast-based chain has expanded to the West Coast by opening a unit in Los Angeles last August.
25. 221B Baker Street Pub & Grill
S: $33.5 million*/12.6%
A: $3.4 million*/-4.3%
Named and styled after Sherlock Holmes’ famous home, 221B Baker Street Pub & Grill is a traditional English bar concept recognized for its laid-back atmosphere, generous meal portions, live music and large selection of imported ales. Hospitality USA Investment Group is the parent company. The company operates mostly freestanding units with seating for at least 250. Additional outdoor seating is also offered at most locations. The concept was launched in 2000 as an offshoot of Hospital ity USA’s Sherlock’s Baker St. Pub, their first concept. Well- recognized English dishes such as shepherd’s pie and chicken pot pie are menued.
26. Wild Wing Café
Mt. Pleasant, SC
S: $40.5 million*/12.5%
A: $1.2 million*/2.2%
Although the tagline at this casual-dining concept is “Hot Wings, Cold Beer & Good Times,” the full-service chain also menus burgers, sandwiches, salads and other all-American favorites. Food and beer aside, Wild Wing Café’s promotions and events make it a popular gathering place and nightspot. Live music by local bands, ladies’ nights, cocktail promotions, poker tournaments and trivia contests attract a fun-loving crowd that makes for a high-energy scene. Seating for 200 to 300 guests is typical at most locations. Founded by entrepreneur Cecil Crowley 20 years ago, Wild Wing Café’s parent company is now Wings Over America, Inc.
27. The Habit Burger Grill
S: $28 million/12%
A: $1.2 million/9.1%
More than 30 years ago a hamburger stand called The Habit opened in Santa Barbara, California. Brent Reichard began working there at the age of 16, and four years later Brent and his brother, Bruce, bought the restaurant. Brent is currently chairman. The Habit Burger Grill is now a limited-service chain specializing in its signature charburgers. The chain attracts a wide range of customers, from families and college students to business professionals grabbing a burger on their lunch breaks. Buildings are freestanding or endcap locations. Interiors feature neutral colors of cream accented by more vibrant colors and dark wood. Posted behind long ordering counters are the words “Custom built! Quality food made to order,” which emphasizes the chain’s focus on fresh, premium ingredients.
28. Showmars Restaurant
S: $28 million*/12%
Showmars offers up fast, made-to-order food in a family-friendly atmosphere. It is open for all dayparts, providing a varied menu of American and Greek items to cater to a wide customer base. Signatures include the original pita burger, fresh fish filet sandwich, tenderloin tips dinner and souvlaki somora dinner. Fresh salads, including Greek and Grilled Chicken Chef, are crowd favorites, too. The privately held Showmars also prides itself on quality service. Units are freestanding in suburban locales, averaging 3,500
to 4,000 square feet.
29. Extreme Pizza
San Francisco, CA
S: $37 million*/10.4%
Extreme Pizza is a limited-service concept that uses extreme sports as both a central design scheme and a menu focus. A sample of its specialty menu items includes a Mexican-style pizza with frijoles negras y salsa, grilled chicken or green chilies, black olives, red onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, cilantro and cheddar cheese; a Mediterranean-style pizza with baby spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh garlic and basil, oregano and feta and mozzarella cheeses; and a Middle Eastern-style pizza with homemade hummus, tomatoes, olives, onions, fresh basil, pepperoncinis and feta and mozzarella cheeses. A fun and energetic atmosphere attracts a diverse customer base, but primarily draws a younger clientele. Units are designed to operate as both freestanding and inline models, ranging in size from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet with seating for 40 to 100 patrons. Todd Parent founded Extreme Pizza in San Francisco in 1994. Since its conception, Extreme Pizza has been recognized as one of the fastest growing companies in the San Francisco Bay area.
30. Ri Ra Irish Pub and Restaurant
New Canaan, CT
S: $27.5 million*/10.2%
A: $2.9 million*/-6.5%
Each Ri Ra outlet is painstakingly designed to create an authentic Irish atmosphere. The chain’s restaurants are all freestanding and the buildings are made from salvaged and renovated pubs brought over from Ireland. Even the interior fixtures and ornaments are imported from abroad. Irish emigrants David Kelly and Ciaran Sheehan started the chain in 1997. The duo later brought in a third partner, Jay Luther, to deal with the expanding business. Luther now oversees daily operations at parent company Ri Ra Holdings LLC. The chain’s restaurants serve American bar fare with an Irish influence. Patrons can enjoy signature menu items such as Guinness barbecue chicken nachos and a classic pub salad while listening to live-music entertainment.
31. 54th Street Grill & Bar
Kansas City, MO
S: $46.2 million/10%
A: $3.4 million/1.6%
54th Street Grill & Bar is a chain of casual-dining restaurants offering moderately priced pub fare. Units are freestanding and generally located in shopping centers. Stores comprise about 5,000 square feet and seat up to 250. Interiors are open and roomy, with exposed ceilings and a large dining area with booth and table seating. The chain offers dine-in and takeaway for lunch and dinner. Express To Go curbside pickup is available at most locations. Thomas E. Norsworthy founded the restaurant in 1990 in Kansas City. Menu signatures include USDA Choice Angus chuck burgers, bacon-wrapped filet mignon, spicy fried chicken sandwich, sirloin steak French dip, center-cut baby back ribs, Cajun-spiced marinated chicken, fried catfish and fire-grilled fajitas.
32. Leeann Chin
S: $44 million*/10%
A: $1.1 million*/0%
Leeann Chin is a limited-service Asian concept specializing in authentic Szechuan and Cantonese cuisine. Leeann Chin opened the first Leeann Chin Chinese restaurant in Minnetonka, Minnesota, in 1980 after emigrating to the U.S. from Canton, China, in 1956. After selling then buying back the company, it was eventually purchased by Mandarin Holdings — which also operates Asia Grille and Chin's Asia Fresh — in 2007. The restaurant chain offers “quick and contemporary Asian cuisine,” which it bills as an alternative to quick-service chains and traditional sit-down Chinese restaurants. Its fresh and healthy menu appeals to on-the-go consumers.
33. Straw Hat Pizza
San Ramon, CA
S: $43.9 million/9.6%
In business for more than 50 years, this limited-service pizzeria is currently run by Straw Hat Cooperative Corporation, a group of independent restaurant operators who tout the concept as the “unfranchise franchise.” Units operate in several models, including the original prototype with salad bar and seating; Straw Hat Express (small outlets offering takeout and delivery only); and Straw Hat Grill (a fast-casual format offering burgers along with pizza). These options offer franchisees the chance to grow without exorbitant franchising fees. Straw Hat’s family-friendly menu is built around genuine California-style pizza, which features a layered, flaky crust topped with a light sauce, fresh vegetables and meats and a blend of six California cheeses. Salads and hot stuffed sandwiches are also offered.
34. Pal’s Sudden Service
S: $35 million/9.4%
A: $1.6 million/3.2%
This limited-service chain takes its name to heart by offering classic American favorites with record fast drive-thru service. Apart from the speedy service, customers are attracted by the award-winning burgers and hot dogs and kitschy, eye-catching appearance. The restaurants are recognized for their brightly-colored, uniquely constructed shapes, very large statues of mascot “Hamburger Man” and giant models of hot dogs, french fries and fountain drinks. The freestanding units offer drive-thru service with only two locations offering counter service. Pal’s Sudden Service first opened in 1985 and is a privately held company.
35. Spring Creek Barbeque
S: $33 million*/8.2%
A: $1.2 million*/-1.3%
This buffet-style Texas barbeque concept is recognized for its hickory-smoked meats basted in a secret sauce. The lineup includes ribs, beef, chicken, sausage, ham and turkey, accompanied by home-baked hot rolls, spicy condiments and homestyle sides, such as fried okra, pinto beans and coleslaw. The rustic Southern-style décor matches the menu. The concept was created by Chris Carroll, with the first store opening in Northern Texas. Parent company Spring Creek Restaurants is still family-held, operating throughout Texas in mostly freestanding buildings with seating for at least 200 guests.
36. Taco Mac
S: $33.4 million*/7.6%
A: $1.5 million*/1.8%
The name of this family-friendly sports bar is a bit misleading: Buffalo-style chicken wings—not tacos—are the main attraction. The cooked-to-order wings are sold by the pound, available both bone-in and boneless in five heat levels. Taco Mac claims to have one of the biggest beer selections in the South, with as many as 108 different beers on tap and about 350 varieties in bottles at any one time. The chain performs especially well with young adults over 21 and families with young children. The Tappan Street Restaurant Group operates the concept.
37. The Original Gino’s East of Chicago
S: $29.5 million*/7.3%
A: $2.1 million*/-2.3%
Kids won’t get in trouble for scribbling on the walls at this full-service Chicago-style pizza parlor—customers are encouraged to leave their mark on the graffiti-covered walls. The chain serves up Chicago-style hand-tossed pizzas loaded with cheeses, meats and vegetables in a lively, family-friendly atmosphere complete with a red-and-white-checkered color scheme. Patrons can choose from 10 deep-dish and thin-crust pizza varieties or build their own pizza from a list of toppings. The menu also includes sandwiches, pastas and dessert. Gino’s East Restaurant Corp. is the parent company. George Laverde and taxi drivers Sam Levine and Fred Bartoli opened the first Gino’s East on Superior Street in Chicago’s Loop shortly after meeting in 1966.
38. Lizard’s Thicket
S: $29.4 million*/6.5%
A: $2.3 million*/-1.7%
Describing its food as “authentic regional Southern home cooking,” casual-dining chain Lizard’s Thicket specializes in Southern homestyle favorites such as fried chicken, country fried steak, pork chops and catfish for all three dayparts. Bob and Anna Williams opened the first unit in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1977. The first unit was a five-room house converted into a restaurant with three small dining rooms and a small kitchen. Today restaurants are freestanding structures in urban neighborhoods that range from 4,000 to 5,000 square feet with seating for 150 to 200 guests. Décor is decidedly Southern.
39. Nestle Toll House Cafe
S: $32.8 million*/6.3%
With an established national operation and the backing of one of America’s most recognizable product brand names, the Nestle Toll House Cafe national chain of treateries is poised for future growth. Along with their signature fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, the concept offers more than a dozen kinds of baked goods, frozen treats and assorted beverages. The chain is licensed and franchised by Crest Foods Inc. and operates in three distinct formats: Street Cafes, Kiosk Cafes and Inline Cafes. Each store is decked out in Nestle’s identifying colors with large display cases and brightly lit menu boards. Founded in 2000 by Ziad Dalal and Doyle Liesenfelt, Nestle Toll House Cafe has recently expanded to Canada and the Middle East.
40. Streets of New York
S: $28.7 million*/6.3%
New York-style pizza is the signature at this full-service, privately held chain. Streets of New York distinguishes itself by using fresh, high-quality ingredients for its pies, which sport either a traditional or thin crust and a choice
of four sauces and 30 toppings. Additional menu items include calzones, pastas and hot sub sandwiches. Interiors of the stores feature New York City-inspired artwork; both catering and takeout services are offered. Lorraine Glaeser opened the first Streets of New York location in Arizona more than 30 years ago. Franchising began in 1987.
41. Rumbi Island Grill
S: $28 million*/5.7%
A: $1.2 million*/0%
Rumbi takes the tastes and textures of the Pacific islands to heartland America. The fast-casual concept stands out for offering a range of customizable meals in a tropical-themed setting. Rice bowls, which come in half- and full-sized servings, are popular for both lunch and dinner. Customers choose from a range of protein options, including luau pork, shrimp and organic tofu, which they then match with white, brown or rumbi rice (cooked in coconut milk) or noodles. Heartier Island Entrees include a luau pork plate and blackened mahi mahi. Salads and burgers are also available. The chain, which was started by David Duffin in 2000, has already opened an outlet in Mission Viejo, California and has plans to expand into Los Angeles and Orange County.
42. Seasons 52
S: $47.5 million*/5.6%
A: $6.3 million*/-2.3%
Fresh, local ingredients prepared with an eye toward health and presentation set this full-service concept apart. The contemporary American menu changes four times a year in tune with the seasons. Selections include oven-roasted flatbreads topped with vegetables, fresh herbs and cheese; caramelized sea scallops; and grilled rack of lamb. Mini desserts such as pecan pie, carrot cake and chocolate peanut butter mousse are served in shot glasses. Specialty cocktails and an extensive wine list complete the dining experience. Seasons 52 is a portfolio brand of Darden Restaurants Inc. Expansion plans into Texas, suburban Chicago and southern California are in the works for this year.
43. Dutch Bros. Coffee
Grants Pass, OR
S: $44 million*/4.8%
Dutch Bros. Coffee is a chain of limited-service drive-thru coffee shops specializing in premium coffees and speedy, high-energy service. The chain’s almost entirely beverage-based menu features a variety of coffee roasts along with lattes, cocoas and specialty drinks. DB Franchising USA, LLC is the parent company. Units are typically freestanding structures located in or near busy retail centers. Most restaurants average 200 to 300 square feet. Brothers Travis and Dane Boersma founded Dutch Bros. Coffee in 1992 in Grants Pass, Oregon. The chain began its practice of roasting its own beans in 1996. Franchising started in 1999. Since its founding, the chain has spread across the West Coast.
S: $28.8 million*/4.2%
A: $1.2 million*/-2.1%
Premium diner fare served in a 1950s-style setting is what this QSR is about. The chain is best known for its hearty burgers, indulgent sides and thick shakes, although there’s a good selection of healthy deli sandwiches as well. The morning menu features breakfast platters, bowls and sandwiches. The retro theme is reinforced in the décor—lots of chrome, neon, decorative guitars and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis mannequins. Period music completes the experience. The chain began life as a converted hot dog stand named Coney Island, but founding brothers Craig and Dale Steven changed the name to Spangles when it came time to franchise.
S: $25 million/4.2%
Biscuitville is a privately held, limited-service chain that specializes in made-from-scratch biscuit sandwiches and classic Southern cuisine. The chain is only open during breakfast and lunch hours. The concept originated in Danville, Virginia, and has since expanded regionally while never straying from its original vision—“fresh, friendly and fast.” All Biscuitville units are freestanding and average 2,000 to 3,500 square feet with seating for 60 to 100. Originally conceived as a pizza joint by Maurice Jennings in 1966, Pizzaville (as it was originally named) offered hand-tossed pizzas by night and rolled out biscuits by day to occupy the pizza ovens during the morning hours. It wasn’t long before the biscuits were outselling the pizza. Jennings converted his six Pizzaville units into Biscuitvilles, and began to open new units throughout Virginia and North Carolina. The company has controlled growth by owning all of its units and not allowing franchise agreements.
46. Egg & I Breakfast & Lunch
Lone Tree, CO
S: $36.7 million*/3.4%
A: $1 million*/-1.5%
Egg & I Breakfast & Lunch is a full-service family-style restaurant chain specializing in fresh breakfast and lunch fare. The chain offers a traditional assortment of specialty omelets, waffles and French toast along with a variety of sandwiches, salads and soups served up in a polished-casual environment. Units are primarily found as endcap units in suburban strip centers. The chain attempts to position itself as an upscale alternative to its competitors with décor packages that include dark-toned wood trim and booths, colorful contemporary light fixtures and vibrantly colored art. Rayno and Patty Seaser opened the first Egg & I Breakfast & Lunch in 1987 in Ft. Collins, Colorado. In late 2005, a holdings company formed by Bill Baumhauer and Don Lamb, E & I Holdings Inc., purchased the chain.
47. Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe
S: $38.8 million*/3.3%
A: $3.1 million*/-4.6%
The kitschy lively atmosphere at this full-service Cajun-style concept makes it attractive to a wide demographic. The restaurants’ walls are painted with humorous cartoons while lobster traps and boats dangle from the ceilings. Dominos and marbles are embedded in the bar counters. Many outlets also feature ponds, which are water attractions. Menu specialties include shrimp Creole, fried chicken and jambalaya pasta. Other classic Cajun dishes such as gumbo, crayfish, gator tail and po’boy sandwiches are also available. Michael Leatherwood founded the chain in 1991 with $120,000, which his family and friends helped him raise. Today, there are 13 locations.
48. Johnny’s New York Style Pizza
S: $43.5 million*/1.2%
Founder Bruce Jackson began at a satellite of the original Johnny's Pizza in Syracuse, New York, in 1971. Six years later, Jackson and co-worker Scott Allen moved to Forest Park, Georgia, to launch their own Johnny’s New York Style Pizza restaurant with an extended menu that included pasta, subs and salads. By 1994, Johnny’s had grown to six locations, and Jackson and Allen began franchising through Johnny's Pizza Franchise Systems Inc. Units are mostly freestanding or strip-center endcaps in suburban locations. Restaurants range from 2,100 to 2,400 square feet with seating for up to 85 customers.
49. Rockfish Seafood Grill
S: $40.6 million*/-2.2%
A: $2.8 million*/-5.1%
Families and professionals are the target market for this full-service concept specializing in high-quality seafood. The units are designed to look like fly-fishing camps and are furnished with pine wood tables, river-rock fireplaces and jukeboxes. Each outlet is also equipped with a full-service bar serving specialty frozen margaritas and domestic wine and beer. The chain’s best selling menu items come from the mix-and-match menu which allows guests to pair their choice of fish with an array of sauces and two side dishes. Other popular options include the seafood enchiladas. The chain was started in 1998 by Randy and Michelle DeWitt but was acquired by a group of private investors headed by Henry Leonard in 2008.
50. Zio’s Italian Kitchen
San Antonio, TX
S: $48 million*/-4%
A: $3.1 million*/-6.8%
Zio’s is a full-service concept offering large portions of comfort Italian food at affordable prices. Most outlets are situated in suburban retail areas and appeal to families. Each is about 7,400 square feet and can seat 240 customers. Units feature open kitchens where guests can view their wood-fired pizzas and fresh pastas being prepared. The restaurant menu includes hearty dishes like baked pastas, brick-oven pizzas, grilled salmon, baked cheese, Italian cream cake and tiramisu. A gluten-free menu with entrees, salads and appetizers is also available. Mazzio’s Corporation founder, Ken Selby, started Zio’s in 1994. Mazzio’s also runs the limited-service Mazzio’s Italian Eatery chain.