Kevin Hardy

Holding It Together

Grab-and-go items, once a staple of nontraditional spaces like college campuses and airports, have gone mainstream.

Today, operations ranging from convenience stores to standalone quick-service restaurants are adding prepackaged items like fresh carrots with ranch dip, pre-made chicken wraps, or yogurt parfaits. And they’re doing so for a good reason: Every day, 28 million Americans eat a grab-and-go snack, according to data from consumer market research firm The NPD Group.

Out of the Ashes

While bankruptcy has its pitfalls, restaurant companies are increasingly finding that it also provides an opportunity for a fresh start.
Quick service chains file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to save brand legacy.
Friendly's CEO John Maguire says the company has streamlined the menu, initiated store upgrades, and rolled out an employee training program since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011.

Once slandered as the “B word,” bankruptcy is finding new life as an opportunity for new beginnings. Blue-chip brands like Eddie Bauer, Delta Air Lines, and the Chicago Cubs are among the list of house-hold business names that have filed for bankruptcy in modern times, times in which even city governments—the most notable being Detroit—have looked to bankruptcy to solve fiscal woes. Those once-bankrupt American institutions, along with more than 1 million personal bankruptcies each year, suggest that the “B word” may have has lost at least some of its bite.

Public Domain

In the last few years, Wall Street has shown an increased appetite for restaurant companies as a whole, and it’s fast-casual brands in particular that increasingly grab investors’ attention.

That was perhaps no more evident than in 2013, when enthusiasm for fast-casual restaurant concepts reached new heights with gangbuster initial public offerings (IPO) from Potbelly and Noodles & Company. The IPOs raised about $100 million each, and stock prices of both companies more than doubled on their opening days of trading.

Final Piece of the Puzzle

The best drive thrus run like machines. Simple goals are met over and over: Orders go out quickly, the food is delivered fresh, and the right orders get to the right cars. But in the drive thru, pressure can run high and the smallest mistakes can prove catastrophic, backing up lines and spelling disaster for both customers and the restaurant’s bottom line.

The QSR 50 Contenders

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Einstein Bros. Bagels

rank last year: 47

With domestic sales down by about $12 million, Einstein Bros. Bagels fell out of the QSR 50 and tops the Contenders list for 2012. The brand has redesigned its options for value-conscious customers, including the new $3.99 Everyday Value Offers. With an expansion of its Smart Choices options, Super Grain bagels, and specialty beverage and low-fat smoothie lineup, Einstein Bros. hopes hitting industry trends will get it back into the upper ranks.

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Searching for a Better Sandwich

At Jersey Mike’s Subs, it’s the little things that make a big difference. The real red wine vinegar used on sandwiches. The freshly sliced meats and cheeses. The store-baked bread and the made-to-order cheesesteaks on the grill.

Jersey Mike’s leaders say those small touches are what set it apart from the world of fast food; it’s not just about offering a cheap meal. The brand isn’t competing in the $5 foot-long arena. Instead, executives say they’re staying focused on the quality of ingredients and service.

The New Norm

The history books detailing the recent Great Recession will include plenty of obvious chapters: the subprime mortgage crisis, Wall Street bailouts, housing bubbles, and skyrocketing unemployment. But those volumes might miss a less visible element of the economic collapse: the crippling credit market that wreaked havoc by bringing business growth to a near standstill.

Can Ice Cream Survive?

They seemed to pop up almost overnight. In strip malls and on street corners across the country, frozen-yogurt shops suddenly offered an exciting new option for America’s collective sweet tooth, teasing at healthfulness and innovating with self service and customization. Once concentrated mostly in warm coastal cities or urban centers, fro-yo concepts spread to countless towns, suburbs, and neighborhoods across the country, with names like Pinkberry, Red Mango, and Menchie’s.

Subway’s Virtual Reality

New store simulation game could be a promising franchise tool.

Subway's Global Challenge helps young leaders learn more about the business.

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It’s being compared to the Sims computer-game franchise and Facebook’s infamous Farmville game. But Subway’s new competition, which has participants creating their own virtual stores online, is handing out more than just token points; the program is also successfully engaging young entrepreneurs, giving the company an early look at talent, and offering prospects a quick and free education on the world’s largest quick-serve chain.

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