The Top 100 is ranked by sales, but the list measures success, and that’s not just a function of revenue. Many have fairly low average checks, but they counter that with traffic volume. These operators never say they know a "secret" to success, but why do they perform so well? Here’s a closer look.
Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant
Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant was doing farm-to-table before it was trendy. Originally a cotton and grain farm, Harris Ranch now produces more than 30 types of vegetables, fruits and nuts. Coalinga, Calif., is between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but it doesn’t do 1,500 covers a day by waiting to be found. The operation last year took its social media function in-house; it is active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and TripAdvisor, touting travel packages with the inn, new menu items and more.
The 50 acres of land bought for $6,750 had a barn, but not much else. The barn became a restaurant in 1960, and Angus Barn quickly became a hit. What fills the 687 seats is a steak-and-potatoes menu—it serves nearly 20,000 aged steaks a month. To bring customers back, there’s nightly live music along with wine dinners, cooking classes and other events.
Brooklyn, N.Y., has seen changes since 1950, but one constant has been Junior’s. It makes cheesecakes in batches of 88, using the same ingredients mandated when its doors opened. Early to the shipping game, Junior’s began sending frozen cheesecakes in 1989. It now sells them online. Junior’s prices have gone up over 66 years, but $6.50 remains the price for a slice.
Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth
Winner, winner, family-style chicken dinners. Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth doesn’t use an elaborate menu to fill its 1,025 dining room seats—it uses history. Zehnder’s has had fried chicken since 1928, either all-you-can-eat or a la carte. While the restaurant remains the same, its complex now includes a water park, a golf course and Zehnder’s Marketplace.
Bob Chinn’s Crab House
Bob Chinn’s Crab House in Wheeling, Ill., grew from 175 seats in 1982 to its current 700 because of the fresh seafood at reasonable prices. The menu changes daily to reflect the catch Chinn’s trucks just picked up from the airport. The common add-on is Chinn’s signature Mai Tai cocktails, which on their own generate annual sales of $1 million-plus.