The restaurant challenges of last year are giving rise to innovation in this one, as operators look to mitigate rising real estate costs, soaring wages and fast-changing consumer preferences. Here’s a look at some concepts slated for 2018 that could have the mojo to weather the troubled industry climate.
1. Big name draws
There’s much buzz surrounding Food Network star Giada De Laurentiis’ second concept, a fast-casual called Pronto that’s scheduled to open at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas early this year. Pronto will serve California-influenced Italian food (salads, panini, gelato) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant will have a specialty coffee program, wine on tap and a full bar.
Celeb chef Paula Deen, whose folksy reputation was tarnished—and her TV gig axed—several years ago after she admitted to using racial slurs, is back on the scene with Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen, a 250-seater set to debut in Dallas in the spring. The concept currently has two other locations. Deen licenses her name for the chain, run by a franchisee. The newest unit will include a full-size replica of the Southern cook’s kitchen, Deen-branded merchandise for sale and a menu of Southern comfort foods.
But one celebrity chef-run concept that likely won’t appear in 2018 is the buzzed-about fast casual from Ming Tsai. Last spring, Tsai shuttered his nearly 20-year-old Asian-fusion restaurant Blue Ginger to focus on developing his ChowStirs stir-fry concept. “Unfortunately, the ChowStirs project is on hold at this time due to some serious family health issues that Ming is dealing with,” a Tsai representative said in an emailed statement. She did not provide any further details.
2. Eatertainment grows
Diners continue to seek out more than just food and drink—they want a hefty dose of entertainment, too. Dart-themed Flight Club enters the mix next year, a two-level, 9,000-square-foot space with 14 playing areas to be located in downtown Chicago, next to sister concept and ping pong bar-restaurant AceBounce. This will be London-based Flight Club’s first U.S. unit. The space evokes a 1900s English fairground, according to media reports, with a menu that includes a raw bar and shareables.
3. No stopping food halls
We could fill this entire space with notes on food halls scheduled to open in 2018. But here are a couple of notable entrants: Austin, known for its thriving food truck scene, is finally getting its first downtown food hall. Fareground is scheduled to open this month, with a half-dozen concepts curated by the city’s ELM Restaurant Group. The hall will feature creative dishes, including wild game tacos from Dai Due Taqueria, and vegan (and traditional) ramen from Ni-Kome. The hall will also be home to two bars, as well as an outdoor area.
Denver, already home to several food halls of varying sizes, will gain another when Milk Market opens early in the year. The 15,000-square-foot hall will feature grab-and-go counters and an underground lounge called Mr. Pink. The hall will also have a pastry shop, an bao bun stand, and counters selling poke bowls, salads, sandwiches, pizza, hot fried chicken and more—a total of 15 concepts. The market is being run by Frank and Jacqueline Bonanno, well-known in Denver for their multiple restaurants.
4. Plant-based goes mainstream
As meatless “bleeding” burgers appear on more menus around the country, the Mall of America in suburban Minneapolis will get a vegan quick-service burger concept. This will be San Antonio-based Earth Burger’s first foray outside of Texas and second location overall. The chain serves pretty much every fast-food staple—burgers, fish and chicken sandwiches, soft serve—all made without animal products.
5. Butcher shop with full-service dining
And on the other end of the plant-based spectrum comes Piece of Meat, a full-service restaurant combined with a butcher shop slated for New Orleans early next year. The concept includes 10 seats at the bar, where diners can watch pigs being broken down and turned into sausage. Most of the restaurant’s seating, however, is outside.