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Watch your step!

Encouraged by a strong economy, restaurant chains are growing with confident—if somewhat conservative—steps. Whereas a year ago, some companies posted nearly 150% growth from the year before in terms of sales and/or unit counts, a mere handful were pleased just to crack the 100% mark in either category on this year's charts. Yet there is considerable growth going on out there, and far more than the years prior to 2004, when countless chains were either shuttering units, or focusing their energies on existing ones. Whereas a small number of hyperactive concepts posted gaudy numbers a year ago, many more chains fall into the healthy 30-50% growth range now. While upstarts like Claddagh Irish Pub, Outback, seafood concept Bonefish Grill, and Ted Turner's bison concept Ted's Montana Grill catch the eye by doubling their sales or unit counts, a robust gang of middle-of-the-packers seems to believe that, as the adage goes, slow and steady wins the race.

The current batch of growth chains, as always, shows a wildly divergent mix of concepts. There's ice cream and hot wings, coffee and beer, burritos and Hawaiian barbecue. While some have opted to dive right into the pool, others—like the fondue concept on the list—prefer a casual dip. 

#1 Claddagh Irish Pub

No one's confusing Indiana with Ireland, but that hasn't prevented Indianapolis-born Claddagh Irish Pubs from spreading its brand of craic (Irish for fun) around the Midwest. At a count of 16 pubs, Claddagh claims top honors in this year's growth list. With a $20 check average, Claddagh offers a menu straight from Ireland—at least the EPCOT version of Ireland—including corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips, and lots of stout. Named for the Celtic ring that shows a pair of hands and a heart, Claddagh posted a hearty 120% sales increase in 2004. Management projects 20 total units by the close of 2005, all company-owned.

#2 Bonefish Grill
Launched in St. Petersburg in 2000, it wasn't long before this seafood chain—which features eight different species of fish a night—caught the eye of Outback execs in Tampa; by the summer of 2001, Bonefish and Outback had shaken hands on a 50/50 partnership. These days, Bonefish has units all over the Southeast, and on up to New Jersey, New York, Illinois, and Michigan. Average check runs around $23, and specialties include Atlantic salmon, lobster tails, and gulf grouper, along with turf-based fare like pork chops and filet mignon. Ingredients and toppings, such as a Pan-Asian teriyaki glaze and warm mango salsa might surprise casual diners used to more traditional flavors.

#3 Ted's Montana Grill
While countless celebrities have lost their shirts in the restaurant business, Ted Turner perhaps is in a different class. For one, the guy knows a thing or two about business. Two, he's got a heck of a lot of bison. His bison-burger concept—founded by Turner and George McKerrow—is now in 17 states. Ted's also serves up a wide range of chicken dishes, soups, salads, and its popular comfort-themed Blue Plate specials. Monday means chicken fried chicken with country gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans. But the big seller is undoubtedly the bison, and Turner knows a little something about the beast—he's reportedly the largest bison herder in the world.

#4 Smokey Bones BBQ
Launched just six years ago—despite conventional wisdom that barbecue and national expansion don't mix—it's Smokey Bones that casual dining giant Darden pegged for growth. With some 83 units in the East, Bones—with a check average around $14—will soon venture west of the Mississippi. Restaurants are equipped with smokers, used to slow-cook pork for up to 12 hours. While fans of barbecue will enjoy the pork, ribs, and brisket, the menu is also studded with non-BBQ fare, such as steaks, entrée salads, and seafood. Early units opened in underperforming Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters, but site scouts now shop for A-sites on which to build from scratch.

#5 Cold Stone Creamery
Ice cream
With over 900 units, Cold Stone has taken its ice cream well beyond its hot Arizona backyard. The concept is built on mixing in mix-ins, such as candy and nuts, on a cold marble slab, and a crew of peppy staffers who sing in unison when a tip is dropped in the jar (though some tippers request they not sing). Cold Stone serves up cones, cups, and cakes, and the flavors are as goofy as some staffers, such as Cherry Loves Cheesecake and Cookie Doughn't You Want Some. Donald and Susan Sutherland founded the concept in 1988, and have their sights set on 1,000 units by the end of 2005—the majority franchised.

#6 Potbelly Sandwich Works
Potbelly had humble beginnings, initially selling sandwiches out of an antique shop nearly 30 years ago. These days, the Chicago-based sandwich concept has over 68 units. Besides posting a 78% increase in sales, Potbelly also served up some fat average unit volumes (AUVs), as those went up a whopping 30%—tops in the Top 50—last year. Spread across the Midwest, as well as in Texas and Washington, DC, Potbelly sells quirky sandwiches such as the four-meat Wreck, a pizza sandwich, and PB & J—not to mention a lineup of soup, smoothies, and ice cream. CEO and chairman Bryant Keil bought the company in '96.

#7 Sandella's Café
Billing itself as "one of the first fast-casual concepts" in America, sandwich and salad chain Sandella's sets up shop in non-traditional sites such as schools and hospitals. Founded in New England by Mike Stimota, Sandella's is seeking licensing partners; the company's home page openly courts prospective licensees. Apparently, several are responding: Sandella's nearly doubled its unit count in 2004, while also posting a healthy increase in sales. The menu ranges from what the company calls "basics," such as ham and cheese, to "gourmet," like the Chicken Verona with Grilled Chicken Breast, Mozzarella Cheese, Roasted Red Peppers, Tomatoes, and Pesto Mayo. The sandwiches, served in a flatbread wrap, sell for between $3.79 and $4.49.

#8 Pei Wei Asian Diner
Pei Wei, younger sibling of P.F. Chang's, brings together flavors from Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, and China, served up wok'd to order. The chain's 53 units are located in the Southwest, Florida, Kentucky, and Minnesota. Guests call their own shots in building meals, then haul their grub to the table. The Signature Dishes, for one, see the guest choose from chicken or pork, shrimp or scallops, beef, and veggies/tofu, to create dishes like Spicy Korean, Mandarin Kung Pao, and Asian Coconut Curry for between $7 and $9. While the concept saw its AUVs drop nearly 5% in 2004, Pei Wei nonetheless experienced big growth both in sales and unit counts.

#9 Moe's Southwest Grill
When Moe's launched in 2000, many wondered how much room there was for another fast-casual burrito joint. Regardless, Moe's nearly doubled its unit count in 2004. As the big burrito players had strongholds in the west, Moe's went east. Moe's offers a wider variety of Southwestern grub than the competitors, say its execs, and a more compelling design, including huge patios. Moe's also serves up a rock 'n roll soundtrack in the stores, and a blast of zaniness—evident in menu items such as the Joey Bag of Donuts and the Other Lewinsky—that's become a staple of parent company Raving Brands. Execs rave about having 400 units by the end of 2005.

#10 Firehouse Subs
Firehouse Subs serves up hot sandwiches and a big bucket of firehouse kitsch. (The company is "spreading like wildfire." They offer "smoking good food." They're "extinguishing hunger." You get the picture.) Founded by brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen, formerly firefighters in Jacksonville, the concept has 175-plus units stretching from Florida to Texas. Popular items: the Hook & Ladder (smoked turkey breast and Virginia honey ham, smothered with Monterey Jack) and the Firehouse Steak Sub (sauteed sirloin steak smothered with melted provolone, sautéed onions and bell peppers, mayo, and mustard). Units also serve up salads and, of course, chili. The brothers (aka Firehouse Restaurant Group) are seeking franchisees to further, uh, blaze the trail.

#11 Roly Poly
Since Linda Wolf and Julie Reid launched Roly Poly in Atlanta nine years ago, they've used aggressive franchising to grow their system to over 275 units in 30 states. Roly Poly sprinkles more sophisticated ingredients—the chicken salad features cashews, plum tomatoes, sliced avocado, alfalfa sprouts, and Thai hot sauce—on a menu board with some 50 sandwiches. Despite the name, Roly Poly positions itself as dieter-friendly: a variety of fat-free cheeses, low-carb breads, and "specialty" salads dot the menu.

#12 Johnny Carino's Country Italian
Johnny Carino's bills itself as "your place in the Italian countryside," and they've brought the countryside to over 26 states, from New Jersey to California. The casual restaurants serve lunch and dinner, with dishes such as Grilled Sicilian Meatloaf and Jalapeno Garlic Tilapia, and a wide range of pasta dishes. Parent company Fired Up mentions agreements with 21 franchise partners, hoping to bring a little Italy to not only more of the U.S., but even the Middle East. Now that's Italian!

#13 Wingstop
Celebrating its 10th birthday last year, buffalo-wings chain Wingstop serves up chicken wings alongside fries, beans, and potato salad, washed down with cold beer in units designed with an old-time aviation theme. Located mostly in the South, the chain features nine flavors of wings, including Hickory Smoked BBQ, Garlic Parmesan, and Hawaiian, and has former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman as a pitchman. Wingstop surpassed 200 units last fall, and is now pushing 250; it rang up $100 million in sales from June 2004 to June 2005.

#14 Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwich Shops
Illinois-based Jimmy John's posted a relatively modest unit gain (8.7%), but a booming 56.2% sales increase—on top of another 40% gainer the year before. Jimmy John Liautaud launched his namesake concept at the age of 19, and still keeps things pretty simple: the menu board features sub essentials like turkey and roast beef on 8-inch rolls for around $4, and a lineup of Giant Club sandwiches, with double the meat and cheese, for $5.

#15 L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
The L&L concept—heaping plates of Hawaiian barbecue similar to what one would get from a lunch truck—goes back several decades to its early days as a drive-in. Today, there are some 115 units across Hawaii, California, Washington, and Nevada, where guests enjoy scoops of rice and macaroni salad topped with flavorful proteins such as chicken katsu, beef curry, mahi mahi, and lemon chicken. There are also burgers and dogs, along with noodle and rice bowls.

#16 Qdoba Mexican Grill
A graybeard among U.S.-based fast-casual Mexican chains, Qdoba turned 10 this year, and currently serves its made-to-order burritos, tacos, and nachos in 220 units across 25 states. Besides its signature burritos (known on the menu as "Signature Burritos"), which offer less typical flavors and ingredients like mole, bell peppers, and eggplant, Qdoba serves up a range of taco salads. All signs point towards further growth for Qdoba, which was acquired by Jack in the Box two years ago.

#17 Elephant Bar Restaurant
Elephant Bar, a family-dining concept with locations up and down California and a few scattered across other Western states, offers "elephant size" casual American fare like burgers (the half-pound "Big E" sells for $6.50) and sirloin steak ($16), along with Pan-Asian dishes like an $8 Pad Thai stir-fry. The décor follows a jungle theme, with exotic plants, zebra-striped wallpaper, and life-size figurines of giraffes, lions, and, of course, elephants.

#18 Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy
The Mexican segment may be a wee bit cramped, but Abuelo's is playing the authenticity card in establishing its point of differentiation. There's a lineup of dishes you might not find at the competition, such as chile rellenos and nearly a dozen varieties of enchilada. And the setting is rather unique as well; the dining room is filled with hand-carved Mexican statues and hand-painted murals. At around 8,000 square feet, the stores are as big as some Mexican villages.

#19 Biaggi's Ristorante Italiano
Feeding America's seemingly unending craving for pasta and red sauce, casual Italian chain Biaggi's, with 18 units located primarily in the Midwest, cracks the Top 20. Under executive chef Peter Shonman's direction, the chain specializes in pizza, pasta, antipasti, and grilled and roasted meats. Founder and CEO Todd Hovenden says the concept is "committed to offering our guests affordable, freshly prepared Italian cuisine served by an exceptionally knowledgeable staff in a unique and friendly environment."

#20 Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
The upmarket brethren of Outback, Fleming's was introduced in 1999 by concept guru Paul Fleming, and grew from 22 to 32 units in 2004, while posting a robust 13.8% bump in AUVs. The fine-diner's menu offers salads and seafood, but the big draw is, as one might guess, steak. Entrées range from a 16-oz. prime rib-eye to a 20-oz. New York Strip, and the red meat is complemented by a 100-selection wine list.

#21 Yard House
Southern California-based Yard House—which gets its name from the three-foot-long beaker-esque device used in days of yore for quaffing beer—serves up nearly 400 different selections of brew, including 250 taps. The 10,000-sq.-ft. units, located in California, Colorado, Illinois, and Florida, also do casual grub like burgers, steaks, and seafood. Music plays a big part in the concept too; there's a different classic-rock playlist every day, drawn from a 5,000-song library.

#22 Zaxby's
Zaxby's serves chicken that's so good, the chain's web site boasts, that guests might just be prompted to yell, "Hey, stop hoarding those wings, Grandma!" Started up by a pair of Georgia guys, Zaxby's, with over 226 stores across the southeastern U.S., does chicken fingers, chicken wings, and chicken sandwiches, along with salads (known as Zalads) and appetizers (known as Zappetizers)—the latter including Tater Chips, Onion Peels, and Fried Mushrooms.

#23 Logan's Roadhouse
Nashville-based CBRL Group, best known for its Cracker Barrel concept, operates over 140 Logan's restaurants; most of them are company-owned and located in the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest. Founded in 1991, Logan's specializes in big portions of hearty fare, value-minded prices, and a décor depicting old-fashioned, wood-planked roadhouses, with buckets of free peanuts on the tables, and discarded peanut shells on the floor. Country music typically fills the airwaves of the 8,000-sq.-ft. units.

#24 Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar
"Wings. Beer. Sports. All the essentials," reads the Buffalo Wild Wings web site. Originating as a college-town hangout—the first opened 23 years ago at Ohio State—specializing in, yup, wings, beer, and sports on the box, the Minneapolis-based concept has branched out with a wider menu for a wider segment of the population. Each of the over 300 units seats 200-250, and large screen TVs show games from all over the globe. Buffalo Wild Wings also plates a selection of burgers, sandwiches, and salads.

#25 Pasta Pomodoro
Italian chef Adriano Paganini started Pasta Pomodoro in a tiny San Francisco storefront 14 years ago, and has grown the concept into a 45-plus unit chain in California and Arizona. Serving lunch and dinner, the menu offers a selection of pasta, chicken, and seafood dishes (entrées run around $10 to $12). Typical offerings include a grilled Angus rib-eye with gorgonzola and Tuscan beans, and a Chicken Parmagiana featuring tomato, basil, and asiago cheese, along with penne and spinach. Pomodoro also does a robust catering business.

#26 Charley's Grilled Subs
Similar to Buffalo Wild Wings, Charley's got its start on the Ohio State campus, and thanks to a big franchising push, founder Charley Shin has grown his system to over 230 units nationwide. While it offers a Subway-esque six grams of fat or less list, it's the hunger-busting subs that move the best at Charley's. There's a Philly cheesesteak, a bacon three-cheese steak, and a BBQ cheddar steak, along with usual suspects like an Italian sub and turkey club.

#27 Quiznos
Sandwich biggie Quiznos saw its system grow 40% in 2004, cracking the 3,000-unit mark. The concept was founded back in 1981 in Denver, and is known for oven-baked subs featuring fast-casual-type ingredients, such as raspberry chipotle sauce, honey bourbon mustard, and red wine vinaigrette. After an ad campaign that featured singing vermin called spongmonkeys, the Quiznos spots now feature a wisecracking infant by the name of Baby Bob.

#28 Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Bubba Gump serves up seafood dishes in a décor reminiscent of a southern fish shack, only one decorated with mementos from the "Forrest Gump" film from which the concept was spawned. Gump only added a single unit in 2004 (17 to 18), but unit volumes leaped a roaring 24.6%. While various seafood dishes dot the bill of fare, shrimp is definitely the star of this picture: stuffed shrimp, skewered shrimp, and coconut shrimp are but a few of the crustacean dishes on offer.

#29 Bravo! Cucina Italiana
Columbus, OH-based Bravo! positions itself between casual and fine-dining, seating around 200 guests in its 6,800-sq.-ft. units. Open for lunch and dinner, the Midwestern chain serves various pizzas and pastas, and does a fair bit of catering too. Appetizers are priced around $4 to $8, pizzas $8 to $10, and house specialties, such as a lobster and shrimp ravioli, from $10 to $17. There's an extensive list of Italian wines as well.

#30 Noodles & Company
Decade-old Noodles, which claimed the #1 spots in terms of sales and unit increases as recently as 2003, stays on the charts with its 36% boost in sales. The 110-unit chain positions itself as fast-casual, offering guests both unique flavors and healthy alternatives. The menu dishes up noodle creations ranging from Japanese Pan Noodles to Penne Rosa to Whole Grain Tuscan Fettuccini, and an array of non-noodle dishes and salads as well.

#31 Caribou Coffee
Based in Minneapolis, Caribou serves premium coffee, a gaggle of teas, and a list of "Grab N Go" baked goods, sandwiches, and salads. The coffee bill of fare shows 22 different beverages, including the Caramel High Rise, Turtle Mocha, and Mint Condition. Taking a cue from some of the big ice cream concepts, Caribou offers mix-ins; guests can try bits of cookie and candy in their coffee drinks. There are currently over 300 Caribou stores around the country.

#32 Brio Tuscan Grille
Owned by the same folks who run #29 Bravo!, 13-unit Brio also serves up pizza and pasta for lunch and dinner, with steaks and chops on the roster as well. Price points run a little higher than its sibling—steaks are priced $17 to $23—and Brio also does a weekend brunch biz. Much of Brio's revenue comes from the bar, as guests belly up for post-work cocktails like the Key Lime Martini and the Brio Flirtini.

#33 Chipotle
Chipotle, a Top 10 finisher last year, clocks in at #33 with a 34% increase in sales. With over 400 U.S. units, the Denver-based chain serves up overstuffed steak, chicken, and pork burritos for $5 to $7, as guests watch them being assembled according to their specs, then dine in the sleek steel and wood-décor restaurants. Founded by Steve Ells in 1993, Chipotle is majority-owned by McDonald's.

#34 Beef O'Bradys Family Sports Pubs
Twenty-year-old Beef O'Bradys, a chain of Irish-themed neighborhood pubs, menus standard pub grub: wings and burgers, sandwiches and salads—mostly in the $6 to $7 price range. With 160 pubs across the Southeast and Midwest, Tampa-based O'Bradys is living up to the concept's motto, which is "every neighborhood should have one." An aggressive franchising program is set up to help the Clan O'Brady reach their goal.

#35 Farmer Boys
Operators of the "world's greatest fastaurant," Farmer Boys offer "fresh food fast" for all three dayparts. The menu is studded with eggs, burgers, sandwiches, and salads, and the Farmer Boys décor calls to mind, yesiree, a farmhouse. There are 47 restau- er, fastaurants throughout California, the fast evident in the 5 to 7 minutes it takes for food to be brought to the table.

#36 Jet's Pizza
Founded by Eugene and John Jetts, Jet's launched back in 1983, and has employed franchising to stake its claim in Michigan and Florida. Besides pizza, the chain serves subs and salads, as well as boats—the Jet's version of a calzone. Besides the traditional pizza toppings, Jet's offers Hawaiian, BLT, and Chicken Parmesan versions of pizza too. And, taking a cue from its national-chain competitors, Jet's offers wings and cinnamon sticks to boot.

#37 Cheeburger Cheeburger
Fans of old "Saturday Night Live" episodes will recall the old "cheeburger cheeburger" diner skit. Florida-based Cheeburger Cheeburger grills up big burgers, such as the 20-oz. Our Famous Pounder ($10.65)—the complete consumption of which gets the guest's picture on the wall—along with sandwiches such as a Grilled Chicken and a Grilled Portobello, and salads. While it's a full-service concept, there's no word about whether it's Dan Aykroyd who delivers the cheeburgers.

#38 The Melting Pot
Also hearkening back to the '70s, fondue concept Melting Pot operates over 90 restaurants (corporate-owned and franchised) around the country. Melting Pot isn't going for the retro thing; the concept actually was around back in the day, having launched in fondue's golden age in 1975. Diners dip their way through four-course meals, the fondue supplemented with salads, bread, and wine, towards a check average of $39. Brothers Mark, Robert, and Michael Johnston run the concept from their Tampa headquarters.

#39 Ben & Jerry's
Ice Cream
Nearly 30 years after Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened a little ice cream shop in bucolic Vermont, Ben & Jerry's is going strong, with nearly 400 units—not to mention a 30% lift in sales in 2004. Besides its signature product, which comes in funky flavors like Chunky Monkey, Cherry Garcia, and Phish Food, the company sells premium coffee, frozen drinks, smoothies, frozen yogurt, sorbet, and ice cream cakes.

#40 Starbucks
The Seattle coffee giant continues to expand, posting not only nearly 30% growth in sales, but an 18% rise in unit count, and an AUV increase of 9.5%. Besides the company's well-known coffee and frozen drink menu, Starbucks continues to generate revenue with baked goods, salads, and even CDs—its Hear Music program offers records from both obscure new bands, and industry biggies like Ray Charles. Jim Donald recently took over the corner office from Orin Smith.

#41 Capital Grille
Rare Hospitality, home of Longhorn Steakhouse and Bugaboo Creek, has grown its fine-dining Capital Grille concept to 21 company-owned units. Capital offers dry-aged steaks, seafood, and a wide selection of wines for lunch and dinner. The menu features app's like caviar and oysters, while the entrée list offers a half-dozen steaks, along with chicken and veal chops. Seafood offerings include lobster, seared salmon, and grilled swordfish. Dinner entrées run $19 to $36.

#42 Fox's Pizza Den
Founded in 1971 by Jim Fox, Pittsburgh-based Fox's has nearly 250 franchised units around the country, which combined for $128 million in sales last year. The chain sells "gourmet" pizzas, like a bacon double cheeseburger and a taco pizza, hoagie sandwiches, and "house favorite" wedgies—sandwiches served in a 9-inch pizza crust. These include the beef, bacon, and cheddar; the pizzaroni; and, of course, the veggie wedgie. A large majority of the business comes from takeout and delivery.

#43 McAlister's Deli
Mississippi-based McAlister's offers over 100 menu items and, as luck would have it, all categories start with S (sandwiches, spuds, salads, soups, and sweets, not to mention sweet tea). The chain positions itself as health-oriented, with nothing "fried or greasy" on the bill of fare. Yet not everything is for the weight-conscious; consider the Spud Max—a giant potato loaded with diced ham, turkey, bacon, cheddar and Swiss cheese, green onions, black olives, and sour cream, and selling for $6.

#44 BJ's Restaurant & Brewery
With 44 units dishing out pub fare and microbrewed ales and lagers (brewed on-premises at some units, but not others), BJ's has established itself up and down the West Coast. BJ's specializes in Chicago-style deep-dish pizza; the BJ's Favorite combines meatballs, pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, and white onions, and is available in four sizes. There are also salads, pasta, burgers for around $8, and hearty sandwiches, such as the open-faced meatloaf, served with wedge-cut fries, for $9.

#45 Panera Bread/St. Louis Bread Co.
Industry wunderkind Panera continues to charm. The company has moved well beyond its Midwest stronghold, and currently has over 750 units nationwide—growing under the Panera banner (the original concept was called St. Louis Bread Co.). The counter-service operation features baked breads, artisan-style bagels, coffee, soups, salads, and sandwiches. Guests seat themselves amidst upscale trappings, and many Panera units offer wireless internet. CEO Ron Shaich claimed the IFMA Gold Plate award for Operator of the Year at the 2005 NRA show.

#46 Rockfish Seafood Grill
While Rockfish's unit count held steady (23) in 2004, the Dallas-based chain cranked sales up over 26%. Rockfish specializes in value-oriented fish dishes, such as fish tacos and a shrimp basket, as well as a list of "chalkboard" specials, like the Voodoo Stew. Owned by the privately held See-Worthy Restaurants, Rockfish units are done up in a seaside theme, whether it's a fly-fishing lodge or a wooden speedboat, and entrées range from $10 to $15.

#47 P.F. Chang's China Bistro
The full-service P.F. Chang's concept, sister brand of #8 Pei Wei, combines a creative Chinese menu and an upscale American bistro décor. With 115 units, restaurants occupy 6,000 to 7,000 sq. ft. and seat 150-250. Check averages come in around $17, with much of it coming from wine. The "P.F." stands for founder Paul Fleming, who also founded #20 Fleming's Steakhouse.

#48 Red Robin International
With a check average around $10, Red Robin, with over 250 U.S. units, plates 22 versions of its gourmet burgers. There's the Royal, which features fried egg, bacon, and cheese atop the patty, and the Teriyaki Chicken burger, which is charbroiled chicken breast with sweet teriyaki sauce, grilled pineapple, and Swiss. Robin also offers non-burger entrées like salmon and steak fries, chicken and penne, and Cajun shrimp, along with soups and salads. An estimated 57% of guests are female.

#49 Cheesecake Factory
Full-service casual chain Cheesecake Factory came to be when the son of a cheesecake-making family, David Overton, opened a restaurant in Beverly Hills nearly three decades ago. Now approaching 100 units, the restaurants are typically around 11,000 sq. ft., and feature a prodigious menu that runs some 19 pages. The concept lives up to its name with a long list of cheesecake desserts, including the white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake and the Godiva chocolate cheesecake. All units are company owned.

#50 Rib Crib Barbecue
Casual barbecue chain Rib Crib, with 32 units across the southern U.S., squeezes into the Top 50 with a 25% jump in sales. The menu features brisket, pulled pork, and an array of baby back and spare ribs. Rib Crib's motto is "Where Bold Began," and the operators have bold growth plans for the future; Rib Crib plans to grow via franchising, and recently agreed to a co-branded venture with KFC.

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