Each year, FoodService Director’s sister magazine Restaurant Business ranks the fastest growing small- to medium-size restaurant chains, using data from sister company Technomic. Here are some concepts on the list that are making headway in the restaurant industry—and could be worth considering as a branded retail option in noncommercial.
1. Kung Fu Tea
A multitude of colorful drinks
Opening its first location in 2009 in New York City, Kung Fu Tea was one of the first to bring bubble tea stateside. Today, the chain has grown to 90 units across the country with more on the way. Consumers are able to choose from around 40 drink combinations, including winter melon tea and honey milk green tea. Housed in transparent cups, the colorful drinks are made for the age of social media.
2. Piada Italian Street Food
An Italian fast casual offering something other than pizza
Guests of this Italian concept won’t find pizza on the menu. Instead, Piada offers seasonal menu items including soups and salads, as well as its specialty piada wrap sandwiches. The chain also partners with charities to play an active role in its local communities. Piada currently has locations throughout the Midwest, as well as in Texas, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
3. Burger Lounge
Grounded in fresh, local ingredients
This burger fast casual centers its menu items on fresh, local ingredients such as grass-fed beef. The chain aims to attract those with dietary restrictions with its organic vegetarian quinoa burger as well as by offering a gluten-free bun.
4. Fresh Brothers
Pizza for dietary restrictions
Fresh Brothers is on a five-year plan to expand from its California roots into other markets. The fast casual’s menu features gluten-free and vegan options as well as sliders, salads and wings, plus bites for those who want something beyond pizza.
5. Chicken Salad Chick
A new spin on chicken salad
This Southern-based chain puts new spins on the traditional chicken salad by offering its mixtures—which fall in categories from “Fruity & Nutty” to “Spicy”— as a salad, sandwich or “scoops.” Guests also can choose from soups, pimento cheese and desserts. The chain has 63 units with more on the way.
6. True Food Kitchen
‘Better’ food for living well
Younger consumers, especially, are seeking out menus that are transparent and offer perceived health benefits. True Food Kitchen, a health-focused casual-dining chain from Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Group and natural-living guru Dr. Andrew Weil, fills that demand with a seasonal menu of salads, bowls, pizzas and entrees like spaghetti squash casserole and pan-roasted chicken. The menu caters to those with a range of dietary needs, including gluten-free and vegan items.
Buying the farm
This Boston-based fast-casual chain purchased a farm last year to grow tens of thousands of pounds of produce to donate to the local community (with a small amount going to its restaurants). B.good’s revamped app focuses on telling the stories of its food producers (who are also pictured on the concept’s walls).
8. Atomic Wings
Clean comfort food
With the tagline “naturally awesome,” Atomic Wings focuses on using antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken. The chain’s menu includes both boneless and traditional wings in a variety of sauces and order sizes (up to 100 pieces), as well as regional specialties like Buffalo spring rolls in select units. Atomic Wings recently expanded outside the U.S. with a Mexico City unit.
9. Halal Guys
Halal meat with signature sauces
What started as a New York City hot dog cart more than a quarter-century ago has become one of the country’s fastest-growing fast-casual chains. Halal Guys no longer sells hot dogs, of course, but it’s capitalizing on a growing demand for halal meat (and Middle Eastern cuisine in general) with large platters of chicken, gyro and falafel with signature yellow rice and sauces. The chain recently launched a rewards program to help gather consumer data.