Oath Craft Pizza
Some fast-casual pizza concepts are hitting a wall, but Boston’s Oath Craft Pizza is gearing up for growth in 2017. With multiple concepts competing for attention from private-equity backers, Oath Craft Pizza has the advantage of being owned by an investment firm. Breakaway, which doubles as a branding agency, closed on a $4.5 million financing round in September to continue growing its four-unit brand in Boston as well as new markets, including New York and Washington, D.C.
Another advantage for Oath Craft is its stackable, smokeless electric ovens that don’t require ventilation, allowing the chain to operate in small footprints. Current locations include a seasonal Nantucket shack and a Boston train station outpost.
The Fox Restaurant Concepts brand received a boost in November when The Cheesecake Factory purchased a minority stake in the fast casual, with the option to buy it if the brand proves a good fit. Flower Child promotes healthful foods such as grain bowls, salads and wraps made with organic produce, naturally raised proteins and local ingredients. The concept currently operates five units in California, Arizona and Texas.
After a $45 million fundraising round led by private-equity firm TPG in the fall, Philz is preparing to ramp up expansion in 2017. The San Francisco-based coffee brand entered the East Coast this year with two units in Washington, D.C., and aims to continue its East Coast expansion efforts with more D.C.-area locations as well as an entrance into Boston.
With the tagline “one cup at a time,” Philz specializes in customizable pour-over coffee. The concept offers about 30 made-to-order coffee blends, such as Tantalizing Turkish (featuring cardamom, maple, herbs and mint leaves) and Tesora (with butter, nuts and caramel).
The unique parentage of this retro burger concept is hands down the main reason its launch was one of the most anticipated startups of 2016. The scaled-down, 1950s-style place is Chipotle Mexican Grill’s new venture, a bid to crack the grandest of all fast-casual markets. The prototype features just seven menu items: single and double burgers and cheeseburgers, plus fries, shakes and sodas. The signature is the Tasty Bacon Sauce, a creamy ketchup replacement available as a topping for fries and sandwiches alike. Chipotle has said it is pleased with Tasty Made’s early sales results, without revealing details. But the venture has not drawn superlative customer reviews on social media.
Cava Mezze Grill
Thanks to a $45 million investment in late 2015, Cava Mezze Grill is coming off a major growth year that saw the opening of about seven units, including its first locations on the West Coast in Los Angeles. Its customizable Mediterranean fare, sourcing transparency and $13-an-hour starting wages have some calling it the “fast-casual restaurant of the future.”
The Philadelphia startup secured a $20 million investment in November that will aid in expansion and technology updates in 2017. The fast casual currently operates about a dozen locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia and is looking to expand outside the Northeast. Part of the investment is also expected to go toward advancing Honeygrow’s proprietary touchscreen ordering system, in which patrons can order customizable stir-fries, salads and Honeybar snacks. The chain aims to add new features to the kiosks such as “Easter eggs,” as well as launch a mobile app with a “unique interactive component.”
Limited-service restaurants wanting to improve their adult beverage business in 2017 can look to Spitz, a Los Angeles-based Mediterranean fast casual with a solid bar program. The funky decor and entertainment—ranging from giant Jenga to live DJs—help Spitz attract a lively crowd that’s looking to pair the concept’s doner kebabs and Street Cart Fries with a few cocktails. Alcohol accounts for almost 40% of sales at some units, with full-service bars offering craft beer, seasonal cocktails and housemade sangria in varieties such as mint apple lime rose.
After opening eight locations in Los Angeles, San Diego and Salt Lake City, Spitz entered the Midwest this year with an outpost in Minneapolis.
Everytable’s unique pricing model makes it an LSR to watch in 2017. The fast-casual grab-and-go concept debuted in Los Angeles this year with the goal of making healthful food affordable for everyone. Meals at the first location, which opened in a low-income neighborhood, go for about $4; the price is in line with the neighborhood, but only earns Everytable about a 15-cent profit. But meals at the upcoming downtown Los Angeles site will be priced comparable to meals from nearby eateries—about $8, giving Everytable a higher profit margin. If the model works, Everytable plans to expand in California with its two-unit format.
Amid ongoing labor issues, all eyes will be on the modern automat Eatsa in 2017. Since launching in San Francisco last summer, the tech-focused fast casual has shown it can operate outside of Silicon Valley with units in the Los Angeles market and—as of the last week—Washington, D.C., and New York City.
There’s never a year when the industry isn’t watching McDonald’s, but people will be paying especially close attention in 2017 as the chain converts to a new service model at all 14,200 of its restaurants. Units will feature touchscreen kiosks (already available in about 500 locations) for customers to place and customize their orders, and staff will deliver food to tables. If the new format works, we could see this model employed at other top LSRs in 2017.
- The Organic Coup: The fried chicken sandwich could arguably be named the “it food” of 2016. Amid the chicken craze emerged Costco-backed concept The Organic Coup, which has reached five locations since launching in San Francisco in late 2015. It has at least three more units in the pipeline for 2017.
- Biju’s Little Curry Shop: Could 2017 be the year of Indian food? Denver fast causal Biju’s Little Curry Shop hopes so. Its authentic curry bowls caught the attention of Whole Foods, which added an outpost of Biju’s to a Boulder, Colo., store in April. Pending the success of the Boulder location, additional Biju’s locations in Whole Foods stores could be in the pipeline for 2017.
- Pokeworks: Poke exploded onto the fast-casual scene in 2016, with Pokeworks emerging as one of the top poke contenders. Since launching earlier this year, Pokeworks has reached four units in California, Seattle and New York City, and the franchise has multiple units in the pipeline, including its first locations in the Houston, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., markets.