The Future 50 2008

There’s not a lot of positive buzz out there right now, but percolating under all the doom and gloom is clear evidence that you just can’t keep a good concept down or clip the industry’s entrepreneurial wings. The Future 50, identified by Technomic, Inc. as the fastest growing chains with sales between $25 million and $50 million, includes 32 that defied the odds to grow sales by 20 percent or more in 2007. Of those, a dozen hit 40 percent or higher sales growth. As a group, they’re hot, they’re nimble and they’ve got what many of their large competitors don’t right now—momentum.

Of the 50, 27 are casual dining operations, 20 are limited-service restaurants and three are mid-scale concepts. “Among the LSR companies, the group is pretty well dominated by fast-casual concepts,” notes Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. “From strictly a sales volume perspective, they’re able to generate higher numbers than are most purely limited-service operations. And casual dining operations do even better when it comes to unit volumes, so from this measure—sales alone—it makes sense that they dominate this group. The reverse is probably true when you look at growth strictly by numbers of units. That’s where LSRs tend to dominate.”

Topping the 2008 Future 50 list is Cincinnati-based Buffalo Wings & Rings, which more than doubled its revenues in 2007 to hit an estimated $37 million. The 20-year-old regional concept has taken flight since new partners came on board in early 2005. Led by Philip Schram, they’ve launched an aggressive franchising program and taken BWR national as well as into international markets in Kuwait and Jordan. The company is selling new franchised units at a clip of one per week.

Native New Yorker, second on the list, took flight last year with a similar combination of signature wings, a casual atmosphere that’s family friendly and sports themed, and an aggressive franchising program. Founded by Judy and Floyd Anderson and their four daughters, the Phoenix-based company had grown to five stores by 1990, when the family began testing the franchising waters. In 2004, with their concept refined and their ambitions for it growing, they partnered with a franchise consulting company to help take it national. Today, NNY has 24 locations open throughout the Phoenix metro area and franchise agreements sold throughout the country. Sales last year grew more than 70 percent to $29 million.

Wings also show up in the top 25 at Wow Café & Wingery, up 40 percent in sales last year; at Hurricane Grill & Wings, up 30 percent; and at Green Turtle Sports Bar & Grill—one of only three mid-scale restaurant companies to make the list—where sales grew by 27 percent last year.
“It’s no surprise that wing concepts were well represented among these up-and-coming chains last year,” notes Tristano. “They’re capitalizing on the success of Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooter’s, which have dominated that niche for so long. Wings are incredibly popular with consumers and it’s a segment that’s ripe for new competition.”

It’s also no surprise that franchising programs are providing the wind beneath 31 of the Future 50’s wings, he points out. “When you look at the high growth companies at this level, it’s really about franchising much more than it is about financing growth internally,” he says. “The trend has been to sell off company stores to franchisees and subsequently grow by selling new franchises. The model allows you to raise capital and lower your expenses by using other people’s money. It’s a far better and less risky way to grow.”

From a menu standpoint, the Future 50 represents a diversity of concepts and cuisines, from hip Japanese barbecue at Gyu-Kaku to Middle Eastern fast casual at Aladdin’s Eatery, fresh and healthful sandwiches at Pita Pit and ’wichcraft, and upscale teas at Teavana, to quick-casual Bajio Mexican Grill and fresh grills like Season’s 52. —D.T.

S: 2007 Systemwide sales/% change
U: Total units open/% change
A: Average unit volume/% change
rankings based on percent change in sales
all percent changes vs. 2006
*Technomic estimate

1. Buffalo Wings and Rings
Milford, OH
S: $37 million*/111.4% 
U: 25/92.3% 
A: $2 million*/5.4%

Topping the 2008 Future 50 list is Cincinnati-based Buffalo Wings & Rings, which more than doubled its revenues in 2007 to hit an estimated $37 million. The 20-year-old regional concept has taken flight since new partners came on board in early 2005. Led by Philip Schram, they’ve launched an aggressive franchising program and taken BWR national as well as into international markets in Kuwait and Jordan. The company is selling new franchised units at a clip of one per week.

2. Native New Yorker
Gilbert, AZ
S: $29 million*/70.6% 
U: 23/53.3% 
A: $1.5 million*/1.7%

Native New Yorker took flight last year with a similar combination of signature wings, a casual atmosphere that’s family friendly and sports themed, and an aggressive franchising program. Founded by Judy and Floyd Anderson and their four daughters, the Phoenix-based company had grown to five stores by 1990, when the family began testing the franchising waters. In 2004, with their concept refined and their ambitions for it growing, they partnered with a franchise consulting company to help take it national. Today, NNY has 24 locations open throughout the Phoenix metro area and franchise agreements sold throughout the country. Sales last year grew more than 70 percent to $29 million.

3. Bajio Mexican Grill
American Fork, UT
S: $28.5 million*/62.9%
U: 36*/125%
A: $1.1 million*/2.3%

"Inspired Mexican" is what Bajio calls its sophisticated take on made-to-order fast-casual fare, with marinated meats, "amazing flavors" and gentle spicing. Owned by Fred De Luca's Franchised Brands,
LLC, headed by former Subway real estate executives, Bajio is scouting lifestyle centers and downtown sites. Ten new units will open soon in Utah, Florida, Washington, Kentucky, Idaho and California, part of a total 45 new units this year, says Director of Operations Bonnie El Halta.

4. Gyu-Kaku
Los Angeles, CA
S: $25 million*/56.3%
U: 12/50%
A: $2.5 million*/8.7%

"Grill.Sip.Love" is the simple message from this Japanese barbecue concept. US:. units are clustered in California and Hawaii, with two in Manhattan. Plans call for two possible new company-owned outlets on the East and West coasts in the next year. Gyu-Kaku is "looking for around five multi-operators to franchise, possibly starting from 2009," a spokesman says.

5. Golden Spoon Frozen Yogurt
Mission Viejo, CA
S: $42.5 million*/54.5%
U: 84*/23.5%
A: $575,000*/4.5%

Golden Spoon, with more than 90 units, expects to have 100 open by year-end and 120 by the end of 2009 through expansion only with existing developers. Currently units are located in California, Alabama, Nevada, Utah and Tokyo.

6. Juice It Up!
Irvine, CA
S: $42.5 million/51.8%
U: 153/18.6%
A: $295,000/-1.7%

When Juice It Up! came on the scene in 1995, smoothie joints were just beginning to jump in the southern California market. Conceived as a way for founder Larry Sidoti to ditch a suit-and-tie advertising career, the concept struck a chord and has since evolved from a low-key local favorite into a fast-track national franchise.

7. Teavana
Atlanta, GA
S: $32.5 million*/47.7%
U: 62/24%
A: $590,000/2.6%

Founded in Atlanta in 1997, Teavana aims to spread the gospel of tea via company-owned stores that it describes as "part tea bar, part tea emporium." Often referred to as "the Starbucks of tea," the chain sells loose-leaf tea, tea-based drinks and tea-oriented merchandise. Founders Andrew and Nancy Mack pioneered the mall-based tea shop concept, which is so focused on its core product that it doesn't offer food.

8. RedBrick Pizza
Palmdale, CA
S: $48.5 million/44.8%
U: 75/50%
A: $775,000/3.3%

Jim and Lynn Minidis may be starting out relatively small, but their goal is to become the largest fast-casual gourmet pizza chain in the world. The couple, former Little Caesar's franchisees, decided in 1998 to strike out on their own. RedBrick has grown by double digits in each of the past three years and is now well positioned for national and international growth. RedBrick Pizza expects 103 units by year's end with master developers in nine different states. The first Canadian unit is expected
to open within a few months.

9. 'wichcraft
New York, NY
S: $32.5 million*/44.4%
U: 12/33.3%
A: $3.1 million/3.3%

Tom Colicchio, chef and co-owner of New York City's noted Craft and Craftbar restaurants, opened 'wichcraft in the summer of 2003, bringing "fine dining and distinctive ingredient combinations" to a new place: between two slices of artisan bread. Everything is made with green- market produce and antibiotic- and hormone-free meats. Ten units are in New York, one in San Francisco and one in Las Vegas. Expect at least three more before the end of the year.

10. Robeks Fruit Smoothies & Healthy Eats
Manhattan Beach, CA
S: $47.5 million/41.8%
U: 138/35%
A: $395,000/1.3%

Billing itself as an easy way to get your daily fruits and veggies, Robeks aggressively expanded under former CEO Sheri Miksa. Founded in 1996 and franchising since 2001, Robeks roots are in southern California—only natural for a chain promising its customers an easy way to a healthier lifestyle. Today it has locations in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Owned by investors including Emigrant Capital, Maverick Capital, John Cushman III, Robert Kirby, Halsey Minor, Robert Pitts Jr., and David Robertson, Robeks plans to add 50-plus new units in 2008.

11. WOW Café and Wingery
Covington, LA
S: $49.1 million*/40.3%
U: 35/66.7%
A: $1.8 million/5.9%

Brothers Steve, Scott and Paul Ballard opened the first Wingery in December, 2001; the chain now has 50 stores in 20 states, according to the company (updated from the Technomic number above). Eight to 10 more outlets are scheduled to open on college campuses this summer. Most are owned by franchisees or Sodexo. The brothers hit on a winning formula when they asked two New Orleans chefs, Paul Prudhomme and George Rhoades, to devise an international array of 17 made-from-scratch sauces for its chicken. Also offered: quesadillas, wraps, fajitas and Texas toast burgers.

12. ZPizza
Newport Beach, CA
S: $36 million*/40.1%
U: 69/40.8%
A: $600,000/4.3%

While gourmet pizza with an array of unusual toppings is commonplace these days, it was a novelty in 1987 when Sid Fanarof opened the first ZPizza in Laguna Beach, California. The handcrafted pies, which featured such health-conscious ingredients as chicken with salsa and artichokes and capers, caught on quickly. Today the multi-unit chain, which prefers high-profile lifestyle centers and metropolitan retail centers, serves oversize salads and sandwiches, as well as its namesake regular or whole wheat crust pies topped with the likes of soy cheese, veggie burger crumbles and zucchini.

13. HuHot Mongolian Grill
Missoula, MT
S: $37.7 million/37.1%
U: 25/31.6%
A: $1.7 million/1.5%

With HuHot, Montana's Yap family, which cut its teeth as Godfather's Pizza franchisees, has set out to conquer an untapped fast-casual niche. Their inspiration? Genghis Khan, who viewed competitors with disdain and the world as ripe for conquest.

14. Lamppost Pizza
Tustin, CA
S: $30 million*/36.4%
U: 42/31.3%
A: $800,000/0%

With locations in California and Texas, Lamppost Pizza focuses on delivering great pizza, pasta and sandwiches in a family-friendly environment. Angelo Barro founded the concept in 1976; today his sons, Tom and Dan, run the company. They use grassroots marketing to draw new customers, 55 percent of whom dine in, 20 percent to 30 percent carry out and 15 percent to 25 percent get their food delivered. Several of the chain's newer units include the Back Street Brewery, a branded microbrewery developed by Lamppost.

15. Dunn Bros.
Minneapolis, MN
S: $32.8 million*/36.1%
U: 98*/32.4%
A: $385,000*/1.3%

Customers wake up and smell the coffee at Dunn's, where every unit roasts beans on site. This year, the 97-unit chain plans to open 15 to 20 more, says CEO Chris Eilers. Beverages run five to 10 cents more than the competition's, but the freshly roasted product "makes a difference in taste that customers are willing to pay for." While franchise inquiries are down slightly this year, same store comps are positive, Eilers says.

16. Seasons 52
Orlando, FL
S: $42 million/34.6%
U: 7/16.7%
A: $6.4 million/8.5%

Darden Restaurants moves decidedly upmarket with Seasons 52, a stylish grill and wine bar. Fresh, seasonal ingredients and healthful preparations form the menu, which boasts that no item exceeds 475 calories.

17. Lenny's Sub Shop
Memphis, TN
S: $43.8 million*/34.2%
U: 151/36%
A: $335,000/3.1

Ten years ago, Len and Sheila Moore decided to finance their daughter's college education
by opening a sub shop in a Memphis suburb. Though they'd planned just one unit, customer response to the concept—sliced-to-order subs and Philly cheesesteaks—led them to open a few more. In 2004, they sold the burgeoning chain to a group of investors including current CEO George Alvord, a longtime foodservice professional. With units in 19 states, the concept encourages franchisees to select locations that can support both catering and a strong lunch business. 

18. Panchero's Mexican Grill
Coralville, IA
S: $38.5 million/32.8%
U: 50/22%
A: $825,000/3.1%

Rodney Anderson and his father founded Panchero's in 1992 with two units in Midwestern
college towns. A few years later they hit on their signature offering: fresh, made-to-order tortillas. That took Panchero's from the college belt to the suburbs, where its fast-casual, fresh Mexican concept—think quesadillas, burritos, fajitas and tacos, with no freezers, microwaves or fryers on the premises—is winning fans. New units opened this year in Missouri, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Connecticut, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and North Dakota. Plans are in place to expand in Arizona, California and Georgia.

19. Le Pain Quotidien
New York, NY
S: $42 million/31.3%
U: 27/35%
A: $1.8 million/3.4%

These rustic Belgian bakery-cafes, whose centerpiece is a large communal table, sell organic, Fair Trade coffee and an increasing number of products from self-sustaining, bio-diverse farms. The brand was founded in Brussels in 1990 by Alain Coumont, and the Belgian owners, PQ Licensing SA:. They opened the first stateside store in 1999.

20. Hurricane Grill & Wings
Stuart, FL
S: $31.2 million*/30%
U: 25/56.3%
A: $1.5 million/1.7%

Hurricane is pursuing aggressive national expansion, opening five casual inline units early this year with 69 more to come in Missouri and Illinois. A new area development pact calls for units in New York City's boroughs and Westchester and Fairfield Counties plus one in Suffolk County opening this fall.
A new re-branding design for both interiors and menus moves away from a tropical theme to a "Beach Life" look.

21. Jim 'N Nick's Bar-B-Q
Vestavia Hills, AL
S: $43.5 million*/29.9%
U: 21/23.5%
A: $2.3 million*/2.2%

Jim 'N Nick's takes its casual dining pulled pork and Angus brisket barbecue concept to Charlotte, North Carolina where it is currently hiring. The chain promises "No shortcuts ever." The menu features "the best of Southern culture."

22. Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille
Edgewater, MD
S: $37.5 million*/27.1%
U: 19*/26.7%
A: $2.2 million*/4.8%

This casual dining concept with Angus burgers, sliders and wings opened its first airport location last year at BWI/Thurgood Marshall Airport. The first unit outside of Maryland opened last year in Washington, DC's Verizon Center.

23. The Chop House
Knoxville, TN
S: $29.5 million*/25.5%
U: 11*/10%
A: $2.8 million*/7.7%

Part of the Connors group, which operates three separate concepts, The Chop House serves moderately priced, aged steaks, ribs, prime rib and seafood at units in Tennessee and Ohio. This summer, stores will open in Augusta, Georgia. The chain's goal is "made from scratch food" and "a superior dining experience."

24. RA Sushi Bar Restaurant
Scottsdale, AZ
S: $42 million/24.4%
U: 16/45.5%
A: $3.1 million/-3.1%

Founded in 1996 by childhood buddies Scott Kilpatrick and Rich Howland, the ultra-hip RA Sushi Bar Restaurant grew to four units in Phoenix before catching the corporate eye of Benihana, Inc. In December 2002, Benihana acquired RA and commenced taking the sushi and sake sensation into urban markets throughout the country.

25. Sammy's Woodfired Pizza
La Jolla, CA
S: $28 million/24.4%
U: 14/27.3%
A: $2 million/0%

Founded by entrepreneur Sami Ladeki in 1989, Sammy's Woodfired Pizza offers a full menu of pizza, salad and pasta in an upscale casual setting. The chain's signature woodfired pizzas range from the traditional (spicy Italian sausage) to the unconventional (arugula and pear). Ladeki Restaurant Group recently finished a complete renovation of all Sammy's units and updated the menu to include more than 20 tapas. Four units are scheduled to open in California and Nevada this year.

26. Aladdin's Eatery
Lakewood, OH
S: $26.5 million*/23.3%
U: 26*/30%
A: $1.2 million*/4.5%

This casually upscale Lebanese-American concept offers healthy, natural pita pockets, "exotic" vegetarian dishes and meat-based specialties. Now franchising in 15 states, Aladdin's reports three to come this year as it moves into new markets in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Detroit, Michigan, and adds a unit in the western Cleveland 'burbs.

27. Bice Ristorante
New York, NY
S: $44 million/22.2%
U: 12/33.3%
A: $4.6 million/2.2%

The Bice chain got its start in Milan in 1926, when Beatrice Ruggeri, known as Bice, opened a trattoria. Her sons, Remo (now deceased) and Roberto, developed a second location in Sardinia in 1978 and one in New York in 1987. Plans for 2008 include openings in Kansas City, San Diego, Florida and Arizona. Bice also operates in Tokyo, Paris, Sao Paulo and Amsterdam and and will open in Dubai and Qatar, all under joint ventures and licensing agreements. The company is currently run by Roberto and Raffaele Ruggeri.

28. Whiskey Creek Wood Fire Grill
Kearney, NE
S: $35 million*/20.7%
U: 16/23.1%
A: $2.5 million/3.1%

This steakhouse chain, founded in 1995, locates its restaurants in smaller, secondary markets and suburban areas in the Midwest and Florida. Now up to 19 units (an update from the above Technomic figure), with ownership split roughly 50-50 between corporate and franchisees, Whiskey Creek distinguishes itself with its wood-fired cooking and its sourcing. More importantly, though, notes CFO Jim Nyberg, "We deal mostly with small family-owned farms.  Our ability to trace the lineage of our beef from birth sets us apart and insures the safest beef in the market."

29. Golden Rule BBQ
Irondale, AL
S: $42 million*/20%
U: 25*/13.6%
A: $1.8 million*/5.9%

This American grill with a sports theme has been around since 1891. Golden Rule has two separate configurations: a full-service barbeque and steakhouse and a traditional roadside barbeque pit. Units are clustered in Alabama, Tennessee and Missouri.

30. Kabuki Japanese Restaurant
Burbank, CA
S: $36 million/20%
U: 11/22.2 %
A: $3.7 million/1.4%

For 16 years Kabuki's mission has been to be the "best Japanese restaurant" in southern California, with innovative designs and creative menus. Three new units opened this year, two in Phoenix and one in Las Vegas. "Fresh, top-quality gourmet dishes" comprise its dinnerhouse menus. "We're in the planning stages for national expansion," says marketing director Young Kim.

31. King's Fish House
Costa Mesa, CA
S: $33 million*/20%
U: 12/20%
A: $3 million*/3.4%

"The House That Seafood Built" began as a mid-priced full-service concept 14 years ago with large, comfortable units, outdoor patios and nautical décor. King's has 17 restaurants currently (an update from the Technomic figure above) and no immediate plans for more this year, but is "always looking for expansion" possibilities in its current market of Southern California, Arizona and Nevada.

32. Stir Crazy
Chicago, IL
S: $36 million*/20%
U: 11/22.2%
A: $3.6 million/9.1%

After its acquisition by private equity firm The Walnut Group in late 2006, Stir Crazy is powered by some heavy hitters: chairman Frederic Mayerson was a cofounder of Chi Chi's Mexican Restaurants, CEO Michael Strauss created Harry's Pacific Grill and president and COO Greg Carey is a former COO of P.F. Chang's China Bistro. That last credential is particularly relevant for Stir Crazy, a full-service casual concept that features Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese food with a focus on fresh, quality ingredients and bold flavors. Six units are scheduled to open this year.

33. Nature's Table Café
Orlando, FL
S: $31 million*/19.2%
U: 70/12.9%
A: $475,000/5.6%

Back in 1977 when Dick Larsen opened the first Nature's Table Café, smoothies were a revelation to Floridians. So perhaps it's no surprise that the mall-based healthy QSR concept has legs. The first franchise opened in 1986, and shortly thereafter Nature's Table ventured into the office building market. These days, the company, which Larsen continues to run, also operates restaurants for firms including AT&T, Oracle Software and Travelers Insurance.

34. Glory Days Grill
Gaithersburg, MD
S: $32 million*/18.5%
U: 19*/18.8%
A: $1.9 million*/2.8%

Glory Days grill and sports bars seek to appeal to every member of the family with cartoon programming, specialty drinks for the kids and 11 sporting, news and entertainment TV channels for their parents. Menu items include regional specialties such as Philly cheese steaks and Upstate New York's beef on weck. The chain has 20 units, two of which are franchised.

35. Pita Pit
Coeur d'Alene, ID
S: $40 million*/18.3%
U: 152/16.9%
A: $285,000/1.8%

Founded in Kingston, Ontario, in 1995, Pita Pit originally targeted college towns for its healthy QSR concept based on lean grilled meats, fresh vegetables and a light, Lebanese-style pita. Franchising began in Canada in 1997, and in the United States in 1999. Current Pita Pit USA CEO Jack Riggs and a team of investors bought the chain in 2005, and they've now branched out to small and mid-sized market areas. Pita Pit co-founder Nelson Lang continues to serve as president and COO.

36. Charo Chicken
Huntington Beach, CA
S: $27.8 million*/18.1%
U: 34*/21.4%
A: $895,000*/1.7%

Charo's tagline is "fresh, fast, fire-grilled." The fast-casual, grilled chicken and Mexican operation is seeking to double its presence in southern California under President and CEO Ray Perry. Two new California units are on the drawing board in Moreno Valley and Tulare, and Charo is seeking franchisees in Las Vegas.

37. Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard
Golden, CO
S: $39.5 million*/16.2%
U: 54/28.6%
A: $900,000/2.9%

Expansion got underway this year in select new Midwest markets for this western chain, which reported same store sales in double digits last fall. Development agreements are expected to add up to 25 new stores by 2013. Good Times, originally a double drive-thru concept, also has a 70-seat indoor dining prototype. The chain, serving all-natural Coleman beef, recently introduced all-natural cream, milk and eggs from vegetarian-fed hens and chickens.

38. Not Your Average Joe's
South Dartmouth, MA
S: $46 million/15%
U: 15/15.4%
A: $3.3 million/3.1%

Living in the suburbs shouldn't mean you're doomed to eat at mediocre restaurants for exorbitant prices. That was Steve Silverstein's gripe back in 1994, when the former CPA and retail executive founded Not Your Average Joe's. Now with 16 units—all in Massachusetts, plus one in Leesburg, Virginia—the casual dining chain offers a varied menu ranging from mustard-crusted chicken to vegetarian stir-fry and Tuscan shrimp scampi. Silverstein expects to open two units in Virginia this year.

39. Biggby Coffee
Lansing, MI
S:  $48 million*/14.3%
U: 89*/11.3%
A: $570,000/1.8%

Starbucks has its Frappuccino but Biggby serves up Teddy Bear and White Lightening beverages. Founded as Beaner's, the company changed its name last year after learning it could potentially offend Hispanics. With 95 stores open this year and 55 in the works according to Senior VP Operations Thomas Butz, Biggby's concept of individually owned units has won a solid following in the Midwest and Southeast.

40. The Charcoal Grill and Rotisserie
New Berlin, WI
S: $25 million*/13.6%
U: 12*/20%
A: $2.3 million*/4.5%

Nine units of this privately held chain are up and running plus sites at a number of southeastern Wisconsin festivals. Last year, three new units were opened, but no sites have been targeted for '08 to date. "We're being cautious, given this economy," says Director of Operations Steve Meyer. Business this year is "trending even with last year."

41. Tahoe Joe's Famous Steakhouse
Eagan, MN
S: $42 million*/13.5%
U: 11/10%
A: $4 million/2.6%

A moderately priced steakhouse concept, Tahoe Joe's is up for sale as its owner, Buffets, Inc., tries to recover from a January bankruptcy filing. Buffets, Inc., which also operates Hometown Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Ryan's Grill and Fire Mountain, became full owner of Tahoe Joe's in 2003, but has since decided to sell the chain in order to focus on its core concepts. As of mid-May, all of Tahoe Joe's locations continued to operate while the firm looked for a buyer.

42. Tommy Bahama's Tropical Café
Seattle, WA
S: $31.1 million*/13.1%
U: 10*/11.1%
A: $3.3 million*/4%

The palm trees and lilting music evoke the islands at Tommy Bahama's Tropical Café, geared for the well-heeled resort tourist. But in Newport Beach, California, the chain recently revamped its concept to fit a "more local market" with an all-day menu, wine instead of a full range of alcoholic drinks and lower price points reflected in menu items like a new burger. This year, new Tropical Café units opened in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Las Vegas.

43. Maid-Rite
Des Moines, IA
S: $46 million*/12.2%
U: 85/16.4%
A: $575,000/4.5%

The unique "loose meat" ground beef sandwich has been Maid-Rite's claim to fame since 1926, when company lore has it that barber Fred Angell combined a special cut and grind of meat with select spices to create a sandwich that a customer said was "made right." With retro décor—black and white tile floors, red diner-style stools and plenty of polished chrome—and an emphasis on customer service, the chain makes the most of its heartland roots. CEO and part-owner Bradley L. Burt is targeting the central and southwestern United States for expansion this year.

44. Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill
Agoura Hill, CA
S: $29 million*/11.5%
U: 11/10%
A: $2.7 million/1.9%

Eric Anders and Ofer Shemtov, who met while working in Los Angeles restaurants and "felt that they could do it better," made their dream a reality when they acted on a "cocktail napkin business plan" and opened the first Wood Ranch BBQ & Grill in Moorpark, California, in 1992. They've since opened 10 more stores in California, many of them awarded top pick in area newspaper reader's choice contests. While tri-tip BBQ is the most popular item on the menu, there's also chicken and seafood and sides like peanut coleslaw and smashed sweet potatoes.

45. Extreme Pizza
San Francisco
S: $27.1 million*/10.6%
U: 33*/37.5%
A: $935,000*/-1.6%

"Life's too short for mediocrity," says this chain, which has 45 sites in operation this year located largely in the West and Southwest, as well as in Virginia and Ireland. Franchising efforts are targeted nationally in the United States and in the U.K. and Ireland.

46. Corky's Ribs & BBQ
Memphis, TN
S: $43 million*/10.3%
U: 23*/21.1%
A: $1.8 million*/-1.47%

Hickory-smoked, Memphis-style, hand-pulled barbecue is the hallmark of Corky's, where music from the '50s and '60s fills the background. New units are planned in Illinois and Kentucky and the chain is said to be eyeing expansion in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maryland through CBBQ, a Tampa-based group that owns the franchising rights.

47. Johnny's New York Style Pizza
Fayetteville, GA
S: $38.5 million*/10%
U: 64/25.5%
A: $675,000*/-0.7%

Johnny's began in Syracuse, New York, where founder Bruce Jackson, who'd worked for a local pizzeria, opened his first unit with his boss's son near the Syracuse University campus. He and a new partner, Scott Allen, later moved to Atlanta where they put a pizza box with the handwritten word "Open" in the window because they couldn't afford a sign. Today, with 53 stores, they plan to develop newer markets in Memphis and Dallas plus more in Charlotte and Greensboro, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina.

48. Montana Mike's Steakhouse
Hutchinson, KS
S: $39.7 million/ 9.1%
U: 27/12.5%
A: $1.6 million/3.1%

Since 1998, Montana Mike's has prospered in B and C niche markets by offering large portions of naturally aged steaks, hand cut in house, at moderate prices. Today they're seeking growth with a new 7,000-square-foot, ground-up construction modeled after a rustic mountain lodge. Owned by Tom Ford, Terry Harstad, Steve Schmidt and Doug Freiling, the restaurants are part of Stockade Companies, LLC, which also owns the Sirloin Stockade and Coyote Canyon chains.

49. Surf City Squeeze
Scottsdale, AZ
S: $48.5 million/8.9%
U: 179/10.5%
A: $271,000/-0.7%

Founder Kevin Blackwell created the Surf City concept back in 1981. The company designs, builds and franchises units targeted for siting at premier fitness clubs, upscale shopping centers and university campuses. The chain's menu is aimed at the health and fitness crowd.

50. Bandana's Bar-B-Q
St. Louis, MO
S: $33.5 million/-2.9%
U: 23/15%
A: $1.7 million/-2.9%

At Bandana's Bar-B-Q, slow-cooked Southern barbecue is the order of the day. That means the pork, beef, chicken and turkey spend 11 to 14 hours in the smoker along with green hardwoods and founder David Seitz's 50-year-old dry rub recipes. Though the food is cooked slowly, it's served fast, with Bandana's promising a meal for four in 30 minutes or less. Seitz brought Southern barbecue to St. Louis in 1996, and now has locations throughout Missouri, as well as in Colorado, Iowa and Illinois.

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