Growth | September 2013 | By Mary Avant

Sweet 16

The history, evolution, and celebrations of 16 brands with major anniversaries this year.

Taco Cabana is celebrating 35 years of success in the fast casual Mexican arena.
Taco Cabana celebrates year No. 35. Taco Cabana
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5 Years

Chicken Salad Chick

Small But Strong

One stay-at-home mom’s quest to find a nearly perfect chicken salad recipe led founder Stacy Brown to develop the young-but-growing Chicken Salad Chick, a concept with not just one, but 15 separate chicken salad recipes for guests to choose from.

Kicking off the year with giveaways that included free lunches, pounds of chicken salad, and party platters, the five-year-old concept is keeping the party going by introducing the brand to new Southern markets; to date, more than 30 units are slated to open in the Carolinas and Georgia. Chicken Salad Chick also added a vice president of operations and corporate trainer to its ranks to support the growth that’s sure to come over the brand’s next five years.

20 Years

Chipotle

Leading the way

Just 20 years in, Chipotle has carved out a niche in the Mexican segment and—some would argue—singlehandedly paved the way for the growth of the fast-casual industry. The sustainability-minded burrito concept has grown into a 1,400-plus-unit chain with an average unit volume of more than $2.1 million, and has encouraged a slew of fast-casual players to dub themselves “the Chipotle of ...” in hopes of achieving the brand’s power and positioning.

Ringing in the milestone with an “Adventurrito” in July, Chipotle took fans on a 20-day online scavenger hunt, all in the name of 20 lucky fans winning free burritos for life.

25 Years

Auntie Anne’s

From Humble Beginnings

For a brand that’s been operating for a quarter of a century, pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s has seen a lot of firsts in its 25th year, from setting up shop in amusement parks to debuting Mini Pretzel Dogs and dabbling in healthier fare with its Honey Whole Grain Pretzel. The concept also broke ground in its 25th country: Vietnam.

Auntie Anne’s has come a long way from its humble roots as a Pennsylvania farmer’s market stand. Hitting the 1,000-store milestone in 2009 and working its way into 46 states and 25 countries has allowed the concept to roll nearly 1.7 billion pretzels since its launch in 1988.

25 Years

Erbert & Gerbert’s

Out of This World

For a brand based on the tales of Erbert and Gerbert Herbert—fictional characters who fought their way through time and space on a number of adventures—it’s no surprise that creativity is at the core of everything Erbert & Gerbert’s does. Each of the sandwiches on the menu is named after a character from the fairytale world—like veggie sandwich Jacob Bluefinger, named after the Colonial-era hero who saved the Declaration of Independence from a life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness–hating nemesis—and consists of unique flavor combinations that director of marketing Chuck Schwalbe says can’t be found at any other chain.

“We deliver flavor from the back of the house to the front of the house to our deliveries, our catering, and now drive thrus that we’ve added in the last year or so,” he says.

The Wisconsin-based brand is throwing a yearlong party for its silver anniversary, with everything from a Founders Day Deal in January that reverted back to 1988 prices to the giveaway of a silver Buddy 1701 scooter.

It also held a five-week fundraiser starting in July that collected funds for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and other charities, and introduced a line of proprietary chips in the same month.

Erbert & Gerbert’s will end the year with a scratch-off giveaway campaign, awarding prizes like a 2013 Kia Soul, bikes, iPad Minis, food, apparel, and more to loyal customers.

25 Years

Cold Stone Creamery

The Ice Cream Chameleon

Cold Stone has been rolling with the changes over the years, capitalizing on customers’ demand for frozen yogurt with its own line in 2008, along with a new concept, Cold Stone Yogurt Bar, that launched three years later.

As early as 2003, the brand broke the $100 million sales threshold and, in the same year, had the honor of pioneering the still-popular Cake Batter ice cream flavor. The brand joins fellow 25-year-old Auntie Anne’s in taking its 25th country—Nigeria—by storm in 2013.

25 Years

Fazoli’s

Italian Invasion

It only took two years to create what would become the Italian quick-serve brand’s most popular item, the Sampler Platter, along with its tradition of offering free, unlimited breadsticks to guests. And though Fazoli’s focused heavily on growing its franchise base in its early days—spreading as far west as Colorado and as far south as Florida by 1995—it turned an eye to menu development in the late 2000s. The brand added the Aaaahtalian menu, which featured more than 50 items with zero grams of trans fat, in 2007 and refreshed nearly 80 percent of the menu in 2009.

Just this year, the brand made a real splash by unveiling that it would launch a fast-casual concept that delivers modern Italian fare with a Chipotle-style service model.

30 Years

La Madeleine

A Taste of Home

When French chef Patrick Leon Esquerré brought his love of the French countryside and fresh-baked baguettes to Dallas 30 years ago, he likely had little idea that his concept would grow to more than 60 locations across the South and in Washington, D.C.

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, La Madeleine sent one lucky guest and a friend back to the homeland with its “Recipe to Paris” contest, which asked fans to create an inspiring original recipe based around the brand’s popular Tomato Basil soup.

The concept also treated guests to free mini desserts on March 2; debuted a dinner menu in the nation’s capital; and whipped up new summer selections, including the Chopped Salmon Nicoise Salad, Grape & Pecan Chicken Salade Croissant, Strawberry Cream Puff, and Mango Breeze Iced Tea.

30 Years

Bruegger’s Bagels

A Lasting Tradition

New York bagels by way of Vermont was the idea behind Bruegger’s Bagels, and it hasn’t veered far from this vision over its history. “We still rely on the same recipe for our bagels that we have for 30 years, and it’s a very simple recipe that has just five core ingredients,” says Judy Kadylak, director of marketing for Bruegger’s. “That simplicity from 30 years ago, we still incorporate it now, which is something that I think is unique to a brand that’s this old.”

Kadylak says Bruegger’s continues to follow the original bagel-making process, which involves baking small batches of kettle-boiled, preservative-free bagels in a stone hearth oven throughout the day to ensure freshness for every guest. “It’s something that’s part of the core and the pride of who we are, so we’ve really held to that tradition,” she says.

It’s this emphasis on tradition, Kadylak says, that fans hold dear, due largely to their own childhood memories of eating Bruegger’s Bagels with their family.

“It’s that simple pleasure that you bite into a bagel and it takes you back to something you remember,” she says. “And the fact that it is still the same, when some of the other things have changed and evolved, there’s something comforting about that to people.”

Bruegger’s has given fans something in addition to memories for its 30th anniversary: free bagels. It offered a complimentary bagel and cream cheese on February 7, as well as 30 Bagel Box Parties to guests throughout April. In conjunction with the Children’s Miracle Network, the brand also gave away three free bagels to guests in April in exchange for a donation to the charity.

35 Years

Ben & Jerry’s

Silly, Yet Serious

When two childhood pals combined their passion for ice cream in 1978, the magic that is Ben & Jerry’s was born. It didn’t take long to establish some of the brand’s biggest and longest-lasting traditions: The first Free Cone Day—now an annual tradition—came in 1979, and Ben & Jerry’s found its way onto frozen-treat aisles in grocery stores in 1980.

Since its early days, the brand has been famous for quirky flavor combinations and product names—Wavy Gravy, anyone?—but it’s also created a reputation as an influential social activist, fighting for everything from the environment to small farmers while protesting oil drilling and encouraging guests to vote.

This year, the brand handed out free cones in early April, resurrected the fan-favorite White Russian flavor, and kicked off a “City Churned” campaign to crowdsource locally inspired flavors in cities like New York and Portland—all in the name of 35 years.

35 Years

Taco Cabana

Fast Casual, Part II

Authentic Mexican cuisine in a fast-casual setting has been at the heart of Taco Cabana since the days when founder Felix Stehling launched the taco and enchilada concept in San Antonio. In fact, chief operating officer Todd Coerver ventures to say that Taco Cabana was one of the pioneer fast-casual chains—before the term fast casual was even invented.

“The food was fast, it was inexpensive, but at the same time you had this patio vibe, they had a liquor license serving fresh-made margaritas, and to this day we have a beer and liquor license for all of our locations,” he says.

Unfortunately, the brand lost its focus along the way, slipping back into a quick-service mindset in terms of pricing, heavy discounting, and a focus on a speedy drive-thru operation. Now, however, the time has come to restore its fast-casual identity, Coerver says.

“We’re talking about the made-from-scratch authentic Mexican food that’s coming out of that kitchen, and then we’re marrying it up with a more contemporary Mexican identity,” he says.

Taco Cabana is in the process of a system-wide remodel that’s slated to come to a close by the middle of next year. In celebration of its anniversary, the brand is also restoring unit No. 1 to its original design. The completed project will be unveiled at a special ceremony this month, while its first scratch-off contest—modeled after the Mexican lotteria—will give guests the chance to win free food, tablets, $100,000 in cash, Mexican getaways, and more through the end of the year.

35 Years

PJ’s Coffee

of New Orleans

A Taste of Louisiana

A brand with as much history and soul as the city it’s named after, PJ’s Coffee was founded with the mission to brew with better beans and superior roasting processes. Growing at a slow-and-steady pace until its acquisition by Raving Brands in 2002, the coffee brand opened several new units in its hometown of New Orleans this year, while also turning its focus to nontraditional growth in locations like casinos, hospitals, universities, military bases, and airports.

And after 35 years, the brand’s fans will finally be able to purchase PJ’s coffee outside of its cafés, with the introduction of single-serve coffee cups in four different roasts earlier this year.

35 Years

Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes

Double Duty

Aside from CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, not many brands in the quick-service industry are known for their dual personality. But 35-year-old Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes are an exception. Born in San Diego as Souplantation—a healthy-food chain focused on delivering wholesome but tasty dining options to its health-minded customers—the brand quickly branched out and created the Sweet Tomatoes side of the business for units outside of its Southern California comfort zone.

The dual brand kicked off its 35th anniversary with a fresh start in January—literally. The Fresh Start menu gives guests new menu choices like the Roasted Vegetable Tossed Salad, Whole Wheat Tomato Spinach Hot Pasta, and Banana Crunch Muffin Tops.

40 Years

Smoothie King

Center of the Plate

Smoothies weren’t the focus of the health-food concept that later became Smoothie King, but they’re certainly the star of the show now. They’re also increasingly a staple of health-conscious diners looking for a low-calorie source of fruit, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals, says Richard Leveille, vice president of franchise development and real estate for the 625-plus-unit chain.

“We’ve taken the smoothie and moved it from the side of the plate to the center of the plate,” he says. “We really don’t consider us a beverage, although we are a liquid product. We believe that we’re liquid nutrition; we’re a meal in a cup.”

After an acquisition in 2012 by South Korean businessman Wan Kim—who now holds the position of global CEO—Leveille says the brand has been able to grow more rapidly than ever before.

“We’re no longer a conservative franchised brand waiting for people to call us, waiting to have to make decisions, waiting for somebody to complain before we react,” he says. “Now we’re extremely proactive, extremely aggressive.”

In an attempt to attract new franchisees, the brand kicked off its 40th anniversary with a franchise incentive program that awarded 40 percent off the franchise fee for the first 40 agreements signed in 2013. The program has already paid off handsomely: In the next several years, the brand will develop an estimated 800 franchise units, along with 200 corporate-owned units.

Smoothie King celebrated its fourth decade in business not only with franchisees, but with customers, too. Its six-week “Lean Into Life” campaign gave away thousands of dollars in gift cards to fans over the age of 40 who are living a healthy lifestyle and inspiring others to do the same.

40 Years

Hungry Howie’s

Flavor First

With an abundance of players in the pizza segment, Michigan-based Hungry Howie’s knew it had to separate itself from the pack when it hit the market in 1973. The answer: flavored crusts. The 545-plus-unit pizza chain offers guests crust choices of the likes of Butter Cheese, Sesame, Onion, and Ranch.

Hungry Howie’s upped its crust game even further this year to celebrate 40 years in business, giving fans the chance to revel in a new limited-time flavored crust each month, including Cajun, Cheese Puff, and Cheesy Garlic flavors. It also jumped into the deep end in early 2013, debuting its first-ever deep-dish option. That should help as a growing crop of fast-casual pizza competitors continue to creep up.

55 Years

Pizza Hut

Innovation On a Roll

Long a power player in the pizza segment, Pizza Hut shows no signs of slowing down in its 55th year. In 2013 alone, the brand—launched by a set of brothers with the $600 their mother gave them as an investment—debuted fresh items like pizza sliders, flatbreads, and the $7.99 Hut Lovers Deal.

But it didn’t forget about its longtime, loyal fans. Rewarding customers for 55 years of business, the biggest pizza chain on the globe offered them a large, one-topping pizza for just $5.55 for 10 days in June.

60 Years

Denny’s

Family Dining Goes Fast Casual

What started as a small doughnut shop on the West Coast in 1953 and officially became Denny’s six years later has blossomed into one of the biggest family-dining chains to hit the scene over its 60-year history. Its signature item, the Grand Slam Breakfast combo, made its debut in 1977, and in 2010, a version of the popular item was served up at the brand’s newly launched fast-casual concept, Denny’s Fresh Express.

The brand also stunned guests in 2012 with the opening of a Vegas flagship that includes everything from a full bar and photo booth to a wedding chapel and supper club. During its 60th year in business, Denny’s has unveiled new coffee blends, a revamped value menu, 14 new menu additions, and the LTO Complete Skillet Meals menu.