Judy Kneiszel

One to Watch: Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill

A decade ago, JD and Sarah Gardner returned home to Utah from a trip to Cabo San Lucas, inspired by the surfing culture and local cuisine of the Baja Peninsula Coast. Soon after, the pair opened Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill.

Sean Collins and Dave Rutter—who were partners in a family entertainment center in Provo, Utah, at the time—saw the success of the original Costa Vida and became the concept’s first franchisees. Over the next four years, Costa Vida grew to 22 units, and in November 2009, Collins and Rutter bought the franchise, becoming CEO and president, respectively.

One to Watch: Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina

Prior to purchasing Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina from its founder in 2011, CEO Phil Friedman spent 11 years expanding McAlister’s Deli from 27 to 300 units.

These days, he and Salsarita’s president and COO Larry Reinstein are looking to grow the fresh-Mex concept. And grow it has, with a double-digit percentage growth in average unit volume that Friedman attributes to menu refinements he’s pushed forward since taking over the chain.

One to Watch: Muscle Maker Grill

Rod Silva, founder of Muscle Maker Grill, says making America healthier requires diners increasing the number of healthy choices they make each day. And Muscle Maker Grill is helping them do just that.

In fact, it’s difficult to make an unhealthy choice at a Muscle Maker Grill restaurant. There are no fryers on the premises; the veggies are fresh, the rice is brown, the meat is lean, and the pasta is whole wheat.

One to Watch: Teriyaki Madness

Rod Arreola, along with his brother Alan and cousin Eric Garma, grew up in Seattle, where teriyaki restaurants are commonplace. When they learned the rest of America didn’t have the same access to the Japanese flavors they loved, they decided to bring teriyaki to the masses, starting in Las Vegas.

“The teriyaki concept is very mature in Seattle,” says Rod Arreola, president of Teriyaki Madness. “There are a lot of mom and pop shops. We grew up on it. All of the recipes for Teriyaki Madness were developed with the help of a friend who owned a teriyaki restaurant in Seattle.”

One to Watch: 16 Handles

The Big Apple’s first self-serve frozen-yogurt concept may be a New York City brand, but it has its roots planted on the West Coast. Founder Solomon Choi learned the quick-service ropes while working for a gelato concept in his native California.

“That’s how my exposure to frozen desserts started in 2005,” he says. “But I began to notice an increase in the popularity of frozen yogurt. The idea for a self serve came from a family friend.”

One to Watch: Sweetgreen

“Franchising is a great way to grow,” says Nicolas Jammet, one of the three Georgetown University graduates who founded the concept during their last year of college.

“There are good franchising business models, but we’re having a lot of fun doing it all ourselves and we don’t want to hand over control. Plus, the sourcing we do with local farmers might be more difficult to do with franchising.”

One to Watch: Juice It Up!

Frank Easterbrook, president and CEO of Juice It Up!, is passionate about juicing. So much so that he wants to reverse the ratio of smoothies to juices sold at Juice It Up! so that juices dominate the business.

Fresh raw juices, introduced about a year and a half ago, account for 15 percent of sales at the California-based store.

“Realistically, I’d like to see it get to 50-50,” Easterbrook says. “With my interest in the health and wellbeing of people, however, I’d personally like to see it at 85 percent juice.”

One to Watch: Smiling Moose Deli

Smiling Moose Deli’s average unit volume is up almost 40 percent this year, and for that, president and founder Kevin Sloane has women to thank.

“When we first started, all we had were hearty New York–style sub sandwiches,” he says. “Now we do a custom chopped salad bar where guests can pick all of their toppings, and that alone opened a broader demographic, especially on the female side. Our customer makeup was 65 percent men. Now it’s 50-50.”

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