Daniel P. Smith

Daniel P. Smith is a regular contributor to <i>QSR.</i>
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Better Burger, Better Brew

Smashburger’s beer pairings continue to differentiate the brand.

Smashburger cofounder explains craft beer and burger pairing at Chicago event.
Smashburger cofounder Tom Ryan explains a craft beer and burger pairing at a recent Chicago event. Daniel P. Smith

Inside Smashburger’s newest Chicago-area restaurant, a hip-looking joint in the city’s trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood, company founder and chief concept officer Tom Ryan holds up the brand’s Windy City Burger as if it’s Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Packed with layers of melted Cheddar cheese, haystack onions, lettuce, tomato, and spicy mustard on a pretzel bun, the Windy City Burger is the fast-casual chain’s exclusive offering for the Chicago market and continues Smashburger’s six-year run of creating local burgers across its 209-store national footprint.

The Corner of Innovation

Corner Bakery Café’s new menu items push fast-casual boundaries.

Corner Bakery's new menu items use fresh ingredients to offer premium quality.
Corner Bakery's Garden Gate Scrambler Corner Bakery

In a push to distinguish itself from growing competition in the fast-casual bakery-café space, Corner Bakery Café is doubling down on menu innovation.

The 22-year-old, Dallas-based chain recently leveraged its high-quality kitchen equipment and capabilities, as well as more than 40 fresh fruits and vegetables delivered daily to its stores, to launch a handful of seasonal offerings.

Standout Store: Dunkin’ Donuts

Adam Goldman entered the Dunkin’ Donuts system in 2010, purchasing a pair of stores in Paterson, New Jersey, that included a forgotten downtown spot.

With an entrepreneurial spirit, Goldman raised the downtown unit’s prospects with an unrelenting focus on fresh product and high-level customer service. Today, Goldman’s shop is enjoying its second consecutive year of double-digit sales growth.

The 45-year-old former IBM executive discusses his store’s turnaround.

What immediate changes did you make?

The Truth About HFCS, Trans Fats, & Sodium

Dr. Ruth Kava isn’t concerned with the hype or hyperbole, emotion or ideology. She’s after one result: scientific accuracy.

A senior nutrition fellow with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), a New York–based organization that highlights peer-reviewed science to encourage more sensible public health policy, Kava has watched the rising vitriol against trans fat, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sodium in recent years. She fears the finger-pointing is overshadowing important facts.

The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

At the world’s largest children’s museum, healthy eating is on display.

Spurred by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining—an organization dedicated to helping people maintain healthier lifestyles—The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis became the globe’s first museum to embrace the Kids LiveWell initiative when it debuted a revised, nutritionally tuned menu last summer.

The museum’s traditional fast-food fare has been replaced by healthier, yet still kid-friendly, options, such as grilled chicken dippers and whole-wheat pasta.

The Growth 40

Aside from all being west of the Mississippi River, Denver; Waco, Texas; and Yuma, Arizona, have seemingly little in common. One is a thriving cosmopolitan metro nestled on the rim of the Rocky Mountains; one sits in the shadow of much larger and more heralded Lone Star markets; and the other perches quietly on the nation's southern border.

Each has its own charm and character, but all share one distinction: high potential for quick-service restaurant growth, according to QSR’s third-annual Growth 40 report.

Standout Store: Corner Perk Café

Restaurant operators work hard to define their business for customers, but sometimes it’s the customers that do the defining. Such is the case at the Corner Perk Café in Bluffton, South Carolina, where the holiday spirit of giving survives throughout the year—but not necessarily by way of owner Josh Cooke’s grand design.

Though a hearty menu has earned customers’ praise, it’s the 3-year-old café’s even heartier public face that continues generating buzz. For the last year, several community members have generated goodwill by paying for their fellow customers’ drinks.