10 Fast Casuals to Watch in the Post-COVID Era

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Pizza Factory
Pizza Factory pizza

Trending upward

Innovation and opportunity for rising quick-service brands has been one of the pandemic's silver linings.

COVID learnings have informed menu changes, fueled new store designs, and sparked franchise growth strategies. 

Here are 10 brands positioned to make an impact for the rest of 2021 and into 2022. 

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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The Hummus & Pita Co.
The Hummus  & Pita Co. platter of food.

The Hummus & Pita Co. 

Founder: Janice Axelrod & Dave Pesso

Headquarters: New York City

Year Started: 2012

Annual Sales: $9.2 million

Website: hummusandpitas.com

The combination of hummus and pita anchor the brand’s menu. The company makes its hummus in-house, undergoing a three-day process. One day is spent boiling chickpeas, another for soaking, and the final day is for cooking. The hummus then gets various ingredients added depending on flavor. There are eight flavors, including sun-dried tomato, roasted pepper, jalapeño, and spicy pepper.

The Hummus & Pita Co.’s customers can find staples from across the Middle Eastern region on its menu. The brand’s pita, laffa, and bowl offerings are customizable, which Dave Pesso says is an effort to make the brand as inclusive as possible.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Ziggi’s Coffee's
Ziggi’s Coffee's drive thru.

Ziggi's Coffee

Founder: Brandon & Camrin Knudsen

Headquarters: Mead, CO

Year Started: 2004

Annual Sales: $16 million

Websiteziggiscoffee.com

The coffee brand has had a slow and steady approach to growth. The first Ziggi’s location didn’t reach a breakeven point until five years in. But two things happened that put Ziggi’s on a growth track. The first was an evolution of its menu, which Brandon Knudsen says developed organically. The menu highlights drinks that range from specialty coffee items to fruit-based drinks. The peanut butter blended drinks are especially popular, as well as the Colorado Mocha. Most recently, Ziggi’s Red Bull–infused drinks have become a big hit for customers.

Ziggi’s invested in drive-thru with its second location, which opened in 2009. That quickly became the model of the future. The chain's drive-thru locations have a small footprint—just over 600 square feet—which allows for two drive-thru windows and a walk-up window.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Sweet Paris
Texas based crepe fast casual restaurant has design fit for Instagram.

Sweet Paris Crȇperie & Café 

Founders: Ivan & Allison Chavez

Headquarters: Houston

Year Started: 2012

Annual Sales: Undisclosed 

Website: sweetparis.com

Husband-and-wife co-founders Ivan and Allison Chavez opened the first Sweet Paris location in Houston’s Rice Village in 2012. The pair, who’d spent time in Paris and fallen in love with the street-food experience of crepe carts, couldn’t find a proper equivalent in Houston. A Williams-Sonoma griddle and stacks of failed crepes later, the Chavezes landed on a recipe they thought they could turn into a viable product. The business school alums spent a year developing the concept, and once it was ready, found a landlord willing to give them a chance on a space close to Rice University.

Beyond offering a unique product, Allison Chavez says, the Sweet Paris space was designed to re-create the European bistro experience, complete with open kitchens, Venetian plaster, and chandeliers. The second location opened in a West Houston development, and Chavez says that while the store was bigger and more expensive, it helped the founders understand Sweet Paris’s identify and expansion strategy for the future.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Pizza Factory
Pizza Factory Express rendering

Pizza Factory 

Headquarters: Oakhurst, California

Year Started: 1979

Annual Sales: Undisclosed 

Website: pizzafactory.com

Through the growth of Pizza Factory’s loyalty app and online ordering, franchisees know there’s opportunity to capitalize on more demand. How to go about that expansion is a question Pizza Factory has tried to answer dating back to pre-pandemic times. Those discussions led to the creation of a new, off-premises only Express model.

The Express store not only allows franchisees to add another location without the heavy investment and overhead of a typical sit-down restaurant, but it also helps them grow in their community. Starting at 1,000 square feet, the upcoming locations will divert a portion of their traffic to a pickup window. This will alleviate bottlenecking inside the store between customers ordering at the register and those wanting to pick up their orders. 

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Honeybee Burger
Honeybee Burger.

Honeybee Burger

Founders: Adam Weiss (Founder, CEO & Director), Jeremy Adler (Hospitality Partner), Brian Cikigill (Operations and Execution Partner), Ophelia Weiss (Design and Customer Experience Partner)

Headquarters: Los Angeles

Year Started: 2019

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Website: honeybeeburger.com

To expand the brand, Adam Weiss sought regulated crowdfunding, a process that allows a business to raise capital online through an SEC-registered intermediary. It lets any investor 18 and older buy into the private business. He selected Start Engine as the platform, and launched a six-month campaign on February 26. In six weeks, Honeybee raised $1.07 million from more than 1,400 people, with an average investment of $738. The pace exceeded his expectations as Honeybee became one of the fastest growing food and beverage brands on Start Engine.

The store design came from Ophelia Weiss, who left Wall Street to become a professional designer. Adam Weiss describes the keystone color as a “really unique yellow,” which meshes with wood and floral wallpaper reminiscent of nature and agriculture. The brand intends to be quirky and funny, as seen by the chain’s logo—an 8-bit honeybee, similar to what you’d see with Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Clean Juice
Clean Juice Sandwiches

Clean Juice

Founders: Landon and Kat Eckles

Headquarters: Charlotte, North Carolina

Year Started: 2014

Annual Sales: $41.2 million

Websitecleanjuice.com

Landon Eckles attributes Clean Juice’s success to menu innovation and expansion. When the chain conducted a national market research study, the company performed well in terms of how consumers feel about the brand, but respondents also made it clear they want more options. That’s a message Clean Juice took to heart—the chain is more than just a juice bar, Eckles says. It is creating more awareness around its wraps, salads, and acai bowls, which consumers gravitate toward during the lunch daypart.

In October, the chain launched its newest “center of the plate” menu category with New Organic Sandwiches, including The Buffalo Chicken Sandwich, The Ultimate Grilled Cheese, The Egg Salad Sandwich, and The Cali Sandwich. The sandwiches retail for under $10 in most markets, do not exceed 690 calories, and can be combined with a 16 oz. organic smoothie for $14.95.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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SoBol
SoBol smoothies.

SoBol

Founder: Jason Mazzarone

Headquarters: Long Island, NY

Year started: 2014

Annual sales: $22 million (2021 prediction is $30 million)

Websitemysobol.com

SoBol stands out for its unique granola, Jason Mazzarone says. With his culinary school background, Mazzarone brought a creative and flavorful taste to the now popularized product. Customers choose between bowls and smoothies with a combination of acai, kale, spinach, berries, mangos, and pitaya.

Mazzarone believes 2022 will be SoBol’s largest development run yet with plans to open nearly 20 more venues. The continued growth will partner the franchise model with operators who Mazzarone says put their faith in SoBol to steer them in the right direction and support them in their local communities. Franchisees pay $30,000 to start their own operation while under the guidance of SoBol’s 15 corporate professionals for site selection, construction, operations, marketing, and management.  

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Chop Chop Chicken Sundaes and Chopped Salads
Chop Chop location.

Chop Chop Chicken Sundaes and Chopped Salads

Founders: Dennis and Debbie Gorton, Jon and Kinnell Steward

Headquarters: Tualatin, Oregon

Year Started: 2015

Website: choppdx.com

Chop Chop Chicken Sundaes and Chopped Salads initially started in the spring of 2015, when the Gortons threw a fundraiser for a friend fighting brain cancer and found chicken sundaes had a wide appeal.

The sundaes, which are also known as Hawaiian haystacks, usually come with a base of rice in addition to chicken (or tofu) and a variety of topping choices such as bean sprouts, almonds, coconut, pineapple, celery, tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and chow mein noodles. The sundaes are topped with chicken gravy or vegetable broth.

Since one of Chop Chop’s founders, Kinnell Steward, has celiac disease, the restaurant prioritized creating an accessible menu for those who are gluten-free. The chicken gravy, soy ginger chicken, and sesame ginger marinade are all without gluten, so anyone who has celiac disease or is gluten-free can get the same exact menu item as their friends or family.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Bluestone Lane
Bluestone Lane exterior shot.

Bluestone Lane

Founders: Nicholas Stone

Headquarters: New York City

Year started: 2013

Annual sales: $50 Million

Websitebluestonelane.com

Bluestone Lane's goal is to expand with a “boutique in scale” mindset. The 50-unit coffee brand wants to open hundreds of locations, but ensure it still feels like a collection of boutique stores with individuality in terms of look, guest experience, and composition of employees. Bluestone encourages reciprocal relationships, not ones that appear homogenous and transactional. 

The company expects to finish 2021 with about 60 locations and anticipates a minimum of 20 openings in 2022, but there’s potential to far exceed that based on the growing pipeline. At that level, Founder Nick Stone says Bluestone will be the largest boutique retail, coffee, and café concept in the U.S. and the biggest Australian hospitality export. 

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST

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Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade
Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade interior.

Wow Wow Hawaiian Lemonade 

Headquarters: Phoenix

Year started: 2012 – began franchising in 2017

Annual sales: Cannot disclose per Item 19

Websitewowwowhawaiianlemonade.com

Wow Wow began in a Hawaiian farmers market in 2012, before growing into a food trailer and eventually a brick-and-mortar store on Maui in 2014. The chain now oversees 10 domestic stores and two international locations in Japan. The menu features hand-crafted lemonades and smoothies, and a food menu comprising acai bowls, grain bowls, flatbread sandwiches, and multigrain avocado and nut butter toasts.

In 2019 the brand was purchased by John Choi and Klaus Grimm of C&G Franchise Development, which moved the company headquarters to Scottsdale, Arizona, and accelerated franchising efforts. The group appointed Tim Weiderhoft as CEO, an existing franchisee at the time and former vice president of franchise development at Massage Envy.

Is your brand one of America’s hottest fast casuals? QSR is now accepting nominations for the 2022 40/40 List. To be considered, restaurants should have more than one but fewer than 40 locations, and have plans to actively scale. The final list will be published in QSR’s February 2022 issue.

To submit your brand for the 40/40 List,click here and fill out the information no later than 11:59 p.m. EST on November 11.

CHECK OUT LAST YEAR'S 40/40 LIST