A walk down the restaurant rows of major overseas cities will confirm that foodservice brands are a leading American export. But the flow is hardly one way, as recent announcements from international chains attest. Concepts boasting capital and powerful U.S. alliances are packed and practicing their English, with an eye on expanding into the world’s leading restaurant market. Here are five that merit watching by any U.S. operator.
1. Costa Coffee
Already the largest coffee chain in the United Kingdom and second only to Starbucks in the global standings, the well-known European cafe operator is poised for a major expansion surge because of its planned acquisition by The Coca-Cola Co.
The $5.1 billion deal isn’t expected to close until early next year, but Coke is already talking about the expansion possibilities. How the United States fits into that plan has not yet been determined, CEO Jim Quincey told investors when the acquisition was announced at the end of August. He explained that the cold-drink giant is currently prioritizing Costa’s growth opportunities, and it’s not clear if the U.S. will be at the top.
Regardless of where it falls, Quincey said, the brand will most likely turn up first either on the drink menus of restaurant chains that sell Coke products or in the form of Costa Express vending machines, which were introduced in Canada in 2015. At the time, Costa said it expected to install 700 of the self-serve devices in gas stations and other nontraditional locations.
The bakery-cafe concept already has a beachhead in the U.S. through its partnership with Starbucks, which holds the development rights to the upstart Milan-based brand everywhere except Italy. About 100 Princi-brand products are sold inside Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery in Seattle, and will also be the only food offerings inside the cathedral-like duplicates that are set to open in New York City and Chicago.
The home of green aprons has also opened its first standalone Princi, in the coffee concept’s hometown of Seattle. Starbucks officials have said that they believe about 1,000 Princi branches could follow, but they have not indicated how many of those are foreseen for the United States.
The U.S. prototype features freshly made items for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from egg-based dishes to pizzas, soups, salads and sandwiches. The emphasis is on freshly baked items, including pastries, desserts and take-home breads. It also offers bar service in the evenings and Starbucks-brand coffee all day.
3. Paris Baguette
The bakery-cafe chain grew out of South Korea, not Paris, but that disconnect hasn’t kept it from quietly becoming a top global chain, with 4,000 stores outside of the U.S., according to Technomic. The researcher pegs the head count for the domestic market at just 66, but there’s reason to expect that number to grow quickly.
The concept recently hired a number of growth-chain veterans to accelerate American expansion, including Jack Moran, the former CEO of Le Pain Quotidien’s U.S. operations, who’s serving Paris Baguette as COO. He’s joined in the C-suite by John Billingsley, the just-appointed chief development officer who also spent time with Quotidien.
Like Quotidien, Paris Baguette features sandwiches, salads and an extensive array of baked items, including breakfast pastries and breads. Both are doing a lively business in specialty nonalcoholic beverages.
4. Marugame Udon
Restaurants hawking authentic Japanese ramen are far from a rarity in the U.S. market, but Marugame Udon brings a few twists to its pitch. For one thing, it can cite some head-turning evidence that it’s the real deal: The chain’s Japanese parent operates nearly 800 shops in its native land, and more than 200 elsewhere in the world (only three of which are in the U.S.).
It’s also a bargain-priced option. The concept’s signature udon is priced at just $4.50, and tempura is a mere $1.50. That’s partly because U.S. stores feature a counter-style service format a la Chipotle, a more efficient approach to labor than having servers.
And then there’s the tech breakthrough. Instead of kneading the noodle dough by hand, Marugame uses a machine imported from Japan to do the work. Those noodles, too, are likely to taste different from what most Americans know as ramen. The place features Sanuki-style noodles, which differ in texture as well as flavor from the type that dominate the U.S. market.
5. Snakes & Lattes
This one didn’t even have to cross an ocean to enter the U.S. market, but that’s just one of the surprises packed into the Canadian upstart. For one thing, it’s low-tech. The retail-cafe hybrid features common tables and a broad selection of board games that customers can play while sipping a beer or coffee or indulging in a nosh.
Curiously, the operation is owned by Amfil Technologies, whose other businesses include the marketer of a sophisticated system for killing germs.
That’s not the only way it’s counter-trend. In the era of video games and virtual reality, it’s retail side is essentially selling games grandma might have played after making some fudge. Picture a bookstore where the shelves are stuffed with the modern-day equivalents of Monopoly or Clue. That sales component isn’t an insignificant part of the business. Blokus, a staple of any home with tween kids, goes for $32.95. Riff Raff goes for $79.95.
Four of the five current branches are located in the Toronto area. The first U.S. outpost is in Mesa, Ariz., and the chain says negotiations are underway to put one in Las Vegas. Commitments are already in hand to develop a Snakes & Lattes—a riff on the name of the old board game Chutes & Ladders—for units in Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Denver and Fort Collins, Colo.