25 Five Guys Burgers & Fries ( 30 )
Can you believe that two years ago, Five Guys sat at No. 42 on this list? So it goes for the better-burger leader, which added more than $200 million in domestic sales and 182 net stores over 2010 by doing, well, mostly more of the same while saturating market after market. The real question to ask: Just what’s the ceiling on this thing?
26 Quiznos ( 21 )
One year after seeing its net unit count decrease by 600 and sales drop by $300 million (earning it a three-spot decline), Quiznos dropped another 334 stores and—you’re reading this right—$500 million between 2010 and 2011, falling another five spots down the QSR 50.
But don’t feel bad for Quiznos. The sandwich concept is actively turning things around, having restructured its debt (to save it from bankruptcy), hired a new CEO (Greg MacDonald), and rolled out a whopping 25 new menu items (including salads, wraps, and sliders). There’s also a new franchisee association and no more Sammies, Bullets, or Torpedoes. All of it helped Quiznos to proclaim in its advertising earlier this year that it’s “Better Than Ever.”
27 Jimmy John’s ( 29 )
While one sandwich concept, Quiznos, plummets down this list, another, Jimmy John’s, is actively climbing. The company fought through unionization efforts from its employees and, this year, an E. coli scare to add another 200 net stores and more than $150 million in domestic sales. It was enough to give the concept the top spot in a recent poll of Millennials’ favorite quick serves rated for food quality.
28 Church’s Chicken ( 26 )
Bolstered by fresh executives in its C-suite, including new CEO Jim Hyatt, Church’s Chicken tried out some new technological efforts, like an online game and a social customer relationship management campaign. It also made waves by closing all of its Nashville-area stores for 18 hours to put employees through a customer service boot camp.
29 Zaxby’s ( 28 )
Quick: What do Ryan Stiles, Doris Roberts, Giuliana Rancic, and Rachel Dratch all have in common? Sure, they’re all (minor) celebrities, but they’re also all stars of their very own Zaxby’s commercials. The chicken fast-casual concept used the celebs to sell its continued run of LTOs, like the Italian sandwich and the Birthday Cake Milkshake. The big news, however, is Zaxby’s new store prototype, an overhaul that shapes the exterior like a farmhouse and offers a more spacious interior.
30 Steak ‘n Shake ( 27 )
Ringleader Sardar Biglari, who took over Steak ‘n Shake in 2008, may have rubbed many the wrong way when he joined the company and went about overhauling it to his liking. But the proof is in the pudding, and even though Steak ‘n Shake drops three spots on the QSR 50, the brand is on solid ground. Not only did it further develop its new prototype, continue its expansion westward, and open a new, buzzed-about unit in New York City, but Steak ‘n Shake also made a major commitment to franchising. By the end of 2011 it had agreements for 110 franchised units.
31 Bojangles’ ( 31 )
New unit openings helped the Southern stalwart cross the 500-unit line, and charitable giving efforts and LTO offerings (like the Fried Bologna and Made from Scratch Biscuits) helped affirm its Southern charm. But Bojangles’ path took a decidedly un-Southern turn when it was acquired by Boston-based private equity firm Advent International last summer. The firm has promised to maintain Bojangles’ identity and still focus growth primarily on the Southeast.
32 Culver’s ( 33 )
Even this Midwest burger staple doubled down on its better-nutrition and sustainability efforts. The company launched its Mindful Choices program at the beginning of 2011, highlighting more nutritious menu options. It then debuted its first LEED-certified store, complete with natural lighting and recycled building materials. Culver’s also rolled out several new limited-time offers, as well as its “Welcome to Delicious” campaign, which spotlighted its small-town charm and authentic qualities. The best news for Culver’s fans? Its first East Coast unit opened this summer.
33 Papa Murphy’s ( 35 )
Determined not to be a pizza also-ran, Papa Murphy’s infused millions of dollars into its “Join the Take ‘N’ Bake Revolution” marketing campaign in 2011. With new CEO Ken Calwell at the helm, the take-and-bake leader (and Zagat-rated No. 1 pizza chain) continued its steady growth, adding 42 net stores and nearly $50 million in domestic sales.