The weather has been frightful in many parts of the country, but conditions haven’t thwarted seven restaurant concepts from posting double-digit comparable-store sales gains this winter. The list includes a number of mature players, at least one surprise, and a rookie that may be unfamiliar. Here are the seven inaugural inductees into the Double-Digit-Sales Honor Roll, along with a quick sniff of the fuel they’re using to power sales:
1. Pie Five, up 16.9 percent for Q2 of 2015
The smartest thing the aging Pizza Inn chain ever did was hatch a fast-casual upstart called Pie Five, which features fresh ingredients and a better quality pizza at its 31 contemporary-looking branches. This is no Marsha/Jan situation; approaching its fourth birthday (as opposed to the 58 candles that will be on Pizza Inn’s cake this year), the younger sister has enough sales pizzazz to drag its older sibling along; Pizza Inn’s comps rose 6.4 percent. No wonder the company changed its name from Pizza Inn Inc. to Rave Restaurant Group.
2. Chipotle, 16.1 percent for Q4
Throughput gains, price increases and the benefits of Chipotle’s signature Restaurateur talent-development program, where managers are rewarded with huge bonuses every time a team manager becomes a manager of another store, paid big dividends. Again. Ironically, some investors backed away from the stock because of fears the torrid pace can’t be sustained—as they do just about every time the concept’s astounding comps are revealed.
3. Good Times Burgers, 13 percent for January
The Colorado burger chain buffed its New Age halo by adding a blackbean burger to its roster of burgers and chicken sandwiches, which are touted as 100 percent natural. The results reflect a gain in traffic, but management acknowledges that a 4 percent price increase also contributed. The chain hopes to maintain its momentum with new house-cured pickles and a run of commercials starting in March for a $2 breakfast burrito.
4. Qdoba, 12.9 percent for Q4
The orb-headed mascot of Jack in the Box should trade his clown hat for a sombrero. Qdoba, the secondary brand of Jack in the Box Inc., is clearly outshining its burger parent, which was hinting just a year or so ago that it might dump the burrito brand. Qdoba owes at least part of its head-spinning success to a simpler pricing set-up. Customers see one price on the menu board for a burrito or bowl, which they can customize with add-ons that formerly carried an extra charge. Customers can move through the line quicker because they’re not mentally adding the ticket in their head, and often use the time to look at what else on the menu they might want.
5. Texas Roadhouse, 12 percent, first seven weeks of 2015
Management has been closemouthed about the why’s, stressing that it’s all about the fundamentals, about execution. But they note that traffic has risen, and that prices were raised about 1.8 percent in November.
6. Buffalo Wild Wings, 11.9 percent for the first five weeks of 2015 (company stores only)
The sports gods smiled upon the wings-and-beer chain in January, with sales proving particularly strong during the college bowl season, according to CEO Sally Smith.
7. Domino’s, up 11.1 percent for Q4
If anyone doubts the importance of technology as a restaurant sales tool, Snapchat Domino’s CEO Patrick Flynn immediately. Online ordering? So yesterday for the pizza chain. A quarter of its sales are now generated through phone and tablet orders. A new virtual order taker named Dom enables customers to speak their orders into the phone instead of touching the screen. And customers with a Samsung Smart TV can order via a screen that’s inset in the television picture, so sports fans don’t have to miss any of the game or show. He’s suggested that the capabilities are growing sales as much as making the process more efficient.