Creativity is flowing from chain restaurant kitchens

R&D is ramping up, and innovative new menu items are the result.
Photo courtesy of Nekter Juice Bar

In most restaurants, R&D was put on pause during the first few months of the pandemic. But now it seems that chefs and menu developers are making up for lost time, wooing consumers with creative new items. Here are some of the latest to appear on chain menus.

Sweetgreen partnered with local bakers in its key markets to bring Rosemary Focaccia to its menu nationwide. From Hewn in Chicago to Aspen Baking Co. in Colorado and Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City, each baker put a personal spin on the flatbread. Sweetgreen is promoting it as the perfect accompaniment to its salads, bowls and plates.


The fast casual also previously debuted its late summer menu, highlighting seasonal produce such as tomatoes, eggplant, sweet corn, peppers and peaches. The vegetables and fruits appear in items including the Pesto Ratatouille Plate, Summer Corn Bowl and Peaches + Yogurt, a riff on peaches and cream that swaps in a cashew yogurt sauce.

Another partnership was initiated by Carl’s Jr. The burger chain teamed up with Nocking Point Wines to promote the release of its new Steakhouse Angus Thickburger. The QSR, which doesn’t usually sell wine, is offering a limited-edition Carl’s x Nocking Point Steakhouse Burger Box beginning today. The promotion is designed to encourage purchasers to recreate an elevated steakhouse experience at home.

Carl's Jr.

Pumpkin spice lattes have already returned to both Dunkin’ and Starbucks this month, and now non-coffee chains are grabbing a piece of the flavor action. Nekter Juice Bar is playing up pumpkin’s nutritional benefits in four new items: Pumpkin Almond Bowl, Pumpkin Spice Smoothie, Pumpkin Mousse Chia Pudding and Pumpkin Superfood Oats. Pumpkin is a natural source of antioxidants, fiber and immunity-boosting nutrients, but these are mostly absent in the pumpkin flavor used in many coffee drinks. “With America still quite passionate about pumpkin spice, at Nekter Juice Bar, we saw the opportunity to transform this flavor trend into something truly healthy,” CEO Steve Schulze said in a statement. 

Yogurtland is helping summer linger with its newest frozen yogurt flavor: Dairy-Free Key Lime Pie. The nondairy treat uses coconut milk as a base and blends it with key lime juice and graham cracker crumbs. For a nutritional boost, the yogurt is fortified with vitamin C.


Three new seasonal salads and a wrap were added to the lineup at Just Salad, all available for a limited time. Summery ingredients include corn, watermelon radishes, snap peas and fresh mint. The roster includes the Backyard BBQ Salad, Mexican Caesar Salad, Watermelon Radish and Goat Cheese Salad and a Spicy Chicken Wrap.

Wow Bao brought strawberry beverages back to its menu, available until Sept. 30. The two thirst quenchers are Strawberry Ginger Ale and Strawberry Lemonade.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Saladworks-parent WOWorks is shopping for new brands to buy

The platform company is almost finished assimilating its existing six brands. Now it's time to add to the family, said CEO Kelly Roddy.


2 more reminders that the restaurant business is risky

The Bottom Line: Franchising is no less risky than opening your own restaurant. Just ask former NFL player David Tyree and the former president of McDonald's Mexico.


There's plenty happening at the high end of the pricing barbell, too

Reality Check: Decadent meal choices are also proliferating, for a lot more than $5.


More from our partners