Judy Kneiszel

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.”

One to Watch: Cheba Hut Toasted Subs

Let’s just go ahead and put it out there: Cheba Hut is a hippie’s dream concept. Everything from menu items and sizes of sandwiches are described using what management refers to as “counter-culture” lingo.

“We have a group of core customers who not only get the references, but who we are making a fundamental connection with,” says Matt Trethewey, chief operating officer of Cheba Hut Franchising Inc. “What’s surprising to most people, however, is that our overall customer base is very diverse. Through our food and our service model, people come back.”

One to Watch: Cheeseboy

Grilled cheese sandwiches have traditionally been made at home or at full-service diners. A few higher-end places have experimented with gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches made with ingredients like watercress and Brie, and some sub shops offer toasting to melt their cheese. But generally, a simple, affordable grilled cheese in a fast-casual setting was rare—until Michael Inwald went to the fair.

One to Watch: Tin Drum AsiaCafé

Tin Drum AsiaCafé is rooted in tradition, but focused on innovation.

Steven Chan, founder of Tin Drum, says the quick-serve Pan-Asian concept is named after the tin drummer, who in ancient cultures served as the local newscaster and wake-up caller. Each morning, he walked the streets banging a tin drum, beckoning people to gather at a café. He would report the news while they ate.

One to Watch: Bullritos

Bullritos is a quick-serve Tex-Mex concept created by Russell Ybarra, owner of two Houston-based full-service chains, Gringo’s Mexican Kitchen and Jimmy Changas.

The name was inspired by Ybarra’s experience running with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain. While dining at Bullritos is considerably safer than that annual event, the interactive ordering system and plethora of possible ingredient combinations when creating a burrito make it an adventure in its own right.

One to Watch: Zoës Kitchen

Zoës Kitchen started the way many mom and pop restaurants do. Zoë Cassimus made her grandmother’s chicken salad recipe for social gatherings, and family and friends told her she should open her own place. So she did.

It grew into an 18-restaurant chain before Cassimus sold it in 2007 to Brentwood Associates, a Los Angeles–based private equity firm. Since then, the number of Zoës Kitchen locations has more than tripled. Kevin Miles, president of the concept, says to expect 20–25 more stores to open in 2013.