2016 was a busy year for restaurant openings, with everyone from major chains like Chipotle to CPG companies such as Pepsi launching revamped or brand new concepts. Here’s a look at the most notable openings of 2016, divided into seven categories: offshoots, brand extensions, fried chicken brands, poke brands, new spots from the big guns, revamps and game changers.
Cracker Barrel began the year by announcing in February it was launching a fast-casual biscuit-focused offshoot called Holler & Dash. The breakfast and lunch concept debuted in March in Huntington, Ala., as the cooler, younger sibling of Cracker Barrel, with on-trend features such as an ordering kiosk, open kitchen that showcased the from-scratch biscuit-making process and cold-brew coffee served in mason jars. While it doesn’t expect Holler & Dash to have “a meaningful impact” on company financial results for the next one to two years, Cracker Barrel is pleased with the concept’s performance and has since added another Alabama outpost and a Florida location, with a Nashville-area site on the way.
Chipotle was another top chain that launched a sister concept this year: a burger brand called Tasty Made. Amid halting development of its Shophouse Southeast Kitchen brand, Chipotle launched Tasty Made in central Ohio with a limited menu of 100% beef burgers, house-cut fries and made-to-order shakes. While Chipotle says it’s pleased with Tasty Made’s performance, customer reaction has been mixed.
The brand extensions
The year brought a handful of brand extensions from the makers of popular consumer products. Bolstering its resume with the title of restaurateur, Pepsi debuted its buzzed-about Kola House—delivering customers more than just a caffeine buzz. The CPG giant’s high-end restaurant and lounge took root in New York City’s trendy Chelsea ‘hood in September, featuring few references to the Pepsi brand but plenty of menu items created around the basis of its origin, the kola nut.
Following Pepsi’s suit, Kellogg opened an eatery as an offshoot of its own CPG brand, also in New York City. Offering jazzed-up bowls of cereal and desserts developed with pastry chef Christina Tosi, the cafe is perhaps aimed at solving a complaint that’s reportedly dampened cereal sales among millennials and has this year spawned several thinkpieces: the agony of cleaning the cereal bowl after one’s finished with it.
The year of fried chicken…
With rising beef prices, fried chicken was thrust into the spotlight in 2016, with multiple new concepts highlighting the fried bird this year. New fried chicken concepts from 2016 include:
- Starbird in Sunnyvale, Calif., serves fried chicken sandwiches, wraps, salads and tenders as well as chicken and egg breakfast sandwiches and touts a remote ordering and drive in-style pickup system. A few months after opening, it received a $5 million investment for launching additional California units.
- The Bird in San Francisco only serves one entree—a fried chicken sandwich, available in regular or spicy versions—that customers can pair with curly fries and beer. Multiconcept operator Adriano Paganini—whose portfolio includes fast-casual chain Super Duper Burgers—launched the brand in October.
- ChkChk in Portland, Ore., features fried chicken sandwiches, fried chicken-topped waffle fries and fried chicken-topped mac and cheese. It avoids the veto vote by offering fried chickpea patties as an option for vegetarian and vegan consumers. A portion of sales is donated to an LGBTQ center in Portland.
- Street’s Fine Chicken, from Gene Street (founder of casual-dining chain Black-eyed Pea) and his family, in Dallas serves Southern-style fried chicken brined in lemon, sea salt and French provincial herbs.
…or the year of poke
2016 could arguably be called the Year of Poke as well, with numerous poke-focused fast casuals serving the Hawaiian-inspired raw-fish bowls launching this year, including the below:
- Pokeworks has exploded in growth since debuting in New York City, reaching five units in New York, Boston and California and gearing up to open locations in Houston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. The franchise offers customizable poke bowls and Pokirritos—a take on sushi burritos that feature poke and rice wrapped in seaweed.
- Aloha Poke Co. has launched three units in Chicago since debuting in a food hall in June. All locations offer customizable poke bowls, and the concept’s brick-and-mortar location also serves 160-ounce Sumo Bowls for group pickup orders. Expansion is imminent, thanks to an undisclosed “seven-figure” investment.
- Tail & Fin in Las Vegas features signature and build-your-own poke bowls, burritos and salads along with starters such as poke tacos and avocado boats. A former Nobu chef opened the concept in August.
- Sweetcatch Poke in New York City eschews the build-your-own format for what it touts as authentic Hawaiian poke bowls prepared with a catch of the day. After opening in November, the concept is preparing to launch a second New York location before the end of this year and a third New York outpost in 2017.
The new spots from the big guns
Adding new concepts to their burgeoning portfolios, a number of high-profile chefs debuted fresh ventures this year. Mario Batali was one of them, opening La Sirena, his first new standalone restaurant and bar with partner Joe Bastianich in close to a decade. The 14,000-square-foot Italian spot in New York City aims to give diners an intimate dining experience, despite its size.
With his first concept where the booze is just as important as the food (or even more so), Rick Bayless debuted his brewpub in spring. Cruz Blanca sits adjacent to Lena Brava, Bayless’ new restaurant focused on wood-fired California fare, and offers a small selection of tacos for guests seeking snacks with their cerveza.
Later in the year, April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman (the duo behind The Spotted Pig and other concepts) debuted White Gold in New York City. The part butcher shop, part casual eatery offers counter service at breakfast and lunch and table service at dinner. The concept is taking on the role of supplier, too, hawking its house meat blends to other restaurants.
Other top industry folks revamped their standouts this year. Grant Achatz debuted a top-to-bottom redesign of his landmark Alinea concept. The restaurant also takes a new tack by offering three different menus (with three different price points), based on where patrons are seated.
In September, Sean Brock welcomed diners into McCrady’s 2.0, a reimagined version of his flagship concept in Charleston, S.C. The new McCrady’s is a more formal affair, offering a tasting menu and serving only guests who make a reservation. For those seeking more casual eats, the new McCrady’s Tavern offers burgers and pork chops next door.
After some delays, Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group this month unveiled the revamp of its creator’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe. The concept, which moved locations last year due to rising rent, outfits some of its staff with Apple Watches to keep them on top of consumer information and operational details.
The game changers
One of the most anticipated restaurant openings this year was Locol, the concept from chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson that aimed to revolutionize fast food by bring healthful, affordable food to underserved neighborhoods. All meals—ranging from chicken nuggets and burgers to noodle bowls and tofu-veggie stew—are scratch-made in house, and nothing costs over $6. Since debuting in Los Angeles’ low-income Watts neighborhood in January, Locol launched an Oakland outpost and a food truck, and additional units are in the works for areas such as East Oakland and San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.
Another concept looking to change the fast food game is grab-and-go concept Everytable, which also launched in a lower-income Los Angeles neighborhood. Like Locol, its mission is also to make healthful food affordable for everyone, and it plans to do so using a unique two-unit pricing model. The first Everytable restaurant serves low-priced meals in line with meal prices in the neighborhood, while an upcoming sister location in a more affluent area (LA’s financial district) will offer the same food but at a higher price point.