Daniel P. Smith

Daniel P. Smith is a regular contributor to <i>QSR.</i>
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The Growth 40

The South dominates this year’s list, featuring half of the 40 entries.
Quick service restaurant companies explore new US markets for expansion.
Meridian, Mississippi, is the Growth 40’s No. 1 small market. flickr / DixieHistorian

The South has risen.

With 20 entries on QSR’s Growth 40 report, an annual listing of the 40 U.S. markets best positioned for quick-service restaurant expansion, the South’s dominance shines from Florida to Texas and up to the Mason-Dixon line in markets big and small.

“The South is really driven by population growth, and more population breeds more restaurant traffic,” says Michael Manning, research sciences manager with The NPD Group, QSR’s analytics partner for this year’s Growth 40.

The Customer Service Five

It’s mid-September and Thom Crosby is on the road again. Every six months, Crosby, the CEO of Pal’s Sudden Service, a 26-unit chain with stores across Tennessee and Virginia, joins Pal’s founder Fred Barger for a road trip. The pair visit all 26 stores, leading quality and system audits at each stop.

“Everything from speed of service to friendliness at the window,” Crosby says.

Standout Store: Borgata Baking Company

As the executive pastry chef at the White House during George W. Bush’s second term, Thaddeus DuBois cooked for world leaders, dignitaries, celebrities, and political powerbrokers. Now the award-winning culinary artisan is dishing up tasty treats for the masses at the Borgata Baking Company located inside the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Standout Store: Phil’s Sliders

Phil’s Sliders proves good things come in small packages. The 44-seat eatery in downtown Berkeley, California, features a $2.75 local, grass-fed beef slider alongside other mini-sandwich creations, including fried chicken, portobello mushroom, and vegetarian sliders. Founded in 2011 by foodservice pro Hugh Groman, Phil’s has also earned a loyal following for its scratch-made, square potato tots, and social media praise for its hand-crafted ice cream and homemade beverages, including cream soda and honey mint lemonade.

Seasoned Professionals

Along the Ohio River Road in Lesage, West Virginia, sits Hillbilly Hot Dogs, a destination stop for locals and tourists alike.

When winter hits, however, Hillbilly’s popular—and wildly distinctive—weenie stand sees a sharp, double-digit decline in revenue, says Sharie Knight, who opened the self-deprecating eatery with her husband, Sonny, in 1999. The sales drop is tough on the business, demanding ownership make some shrewd, strategic decisions to ensure the restaurant meets its annual financial targets.

“You really have to store your nuts,” Knight says.

Standout Store: Funky Chicken

What do you get when you pair a James Beard award–winning chef, his rising-culinary-star son, and a veteran restaurant company? Surprisingly enough, a Houston-based fried chicken joint called Funky Chicken.

Acclaimed chef Bradley Ogden; his son, Bryan; and the skilled team at Bradley Ogden Hospitality (BOH) opened the 70-seat eatery last December, a departure from the group’s upscale projects. The farm-to-table fast casual features farm-raised roasted and fried chicken alongside buttermilk biscuits, bread pudding, natural sodas, and craft brews.

Standout Store: Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen

Craig Bernstein knew he wanted to be a restaurateur as early as the sixth grade, and in the summer of 2013, he transformed those childhood ambitions into a reality with the debut of Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen.

Named in honor of Bernstein’s father, Dr. Robert Bernstein, the Chicago-based eatery is a quick-service operation by day and full-service by night to accomodate a wide variety of diners. The menu features scratch-made entrées, ready-to-go salads and sandwiches, and a full-service bar peddling signature cocktails and craft beers.