41Having most of your restaurants in shopping malls and airports can be a pointed challenge when shopping and travel fall. As a result, Sbarro closed 113 units during 2009. But 78 stores fired up their ovens for the first time. The chain is concentrating on a broader range of sites, including universities and downtown areas.
42In February, Jason’s Deli asked patrons if they’d appreciate the removal of all artificial dyes and colorings from the fast-casual chain’s fare. Two months later, the additives were yanked. Now Jason’s is gauging consumer interest in gluten-free sandwiches. Stay tuned. After eliminating high fructose corn syrup and MSG from menu items, the concept quietly continues to pursue “stealth health”—better-for-you options without any noticeable sacrifice—as a point of differentiation.
43Having a “for sale” sign hammered into the concept’s front lawn didn’t interrupt Captain D’s from pursuing a niche as an economical alternative to seafood dinner houses, with customer lures like wild Alaskan salmon and shrimp kebobs. Still, it’s been forced to float a few discounts, including $5 platters. Sun Capital announced its acquisition of D’s from Sagittarius Brands in May.
44On April Fool’s Day, jokesters in New York City outfitted an empty storefront with a sign announcing the opening of an In-N-Out Burger. The Internet buzz wouldn’t have been louder if Elvis himself had held the sign. But the hubbub just as quickly died down as fans remembered that this was In-N-Out, a brand growing at a painstakingly controlled pace from its West Coast roots. Its last significant change: a price hike in mid-spring.
45There’s nothing like a plug from Barack Obama to help a brand on the rise. Then again, Five Guys might’ve made the QSR 50 this year even without a visit from the president, an avowed fan of the fresh-beef burgers and hand-cut fries. The limited menu and cult-like following have prompted comparisons with Hot-N-Now, though Five Guys is growing far faster. Management promised 200 openings for 2010 alone.
46Qdoba joined fellow burrito specialists in packing its menus with new draws for children, lighter eaters, and deal seekers. In the case of Jack in the Box’s little sister, the new lures included a pick-two deal, priced at $5.99. Catering will be getting a push, as will a stepped-up customer-loyalty program.
47Cold Stone Creamery is trying to sweeten its appeal through two major initiatives: cobranding with Tim Hortons and the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory chain and the addition of new menu options. So far, most of the Tim Hortons–Cold Stone pairings have come in Canada. The more noticeable U.S. effort has been the product push, with new draws like a 10-flavor Gold Cone premium ice cream line.
48You gotta watch those quiet ones. Chains larger than Krystal have generated considerable buzz with innovations like free WiFi, improved drive-thru ordering systems, comfier dining rooms, and packaging imprinted with real customers’ photos. Now drive-thru-only units are being selectively recast into full-fledged restaurants so patrons can kick back and relish the changes.
49Tim Hortons continues to look for a formula that will deliver the same success in the U.S. that the brand enjoys in its native Canada. Components include the 10-site test of a new format that presents Tim Hortons as a bakery/café, not a doughnut shop. The brand is also being paired with Cold Stone Creamery mix-in treat shops. Meanwhile, the menu R&D department is focusing on beverages, sandwiches, and soups.
50New products will be the caffeine in Einstein Bros.’ effort to jolt sales this year. An executive recently divulged that the bagel chain will rev up its promotional efforts to 10 LTOs in 2010. Recent menu additions included new breakfast and lunch items containing no more than 400 calories and a probiotic yogurt parfait. Tests of a gluten-free bagel were still under way at press time.