For a concept that has grown to 35 locations in two states—and one that plans to open 18 new stores this year alone—it’s hard to believe it took five years before Luna Grill even opened its second restaurant. But that was the case for this San Diego–based fast casual 2.0 brand, which launched in 2004 and waited until 2009 before opening the doors to store No. 2.

At that time, cofounder and CEO Sean Pourteymour says, company leaders—including his wife and cofounder, Maria—decided they wouldn’t just open a few more. They knew that if they went multiunit, they would grow the Luna Grill concept into a national chain. And that’s exactly what they’re in the process of doing. The company has expanded to Texas and is actively looking at Arizona, Colorado, and the Southeast U.S. for further expansion—all of it company-owned.

Pourteymour says that other than the menu (Mediterranean-inspired plates, salads, and wraps), Luna Grill has been evolving the business since day one, tweaking and improving in order to stay ahead of the ever-increasing competition. “Anybody can open a restaurant; anybody can open our type of food and give a good décor. But how do you stay relevant?” he says. “I believe that’s key to forward success, especially in these times. Things are going to be good, but things are going to be tight as well.”

In Pourteymour’s opinion, Luna Grill provides a unique enough concept to protect it from any restaurant bubble or crowded fast-casual field. The company strives to provide a sit-and-stay-a-while vibe, a restaurant experience that would be a date destination as much as it would be for a quick business lunch.

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“We want to give the customer an experience,” he says. “We want it to be cozy; we want them to use WiFi. Have a seat, have an extra drink. We don’t want to rush you; we actually want you to stay. We want to be the neighborhood family kitchen.”

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Growth, Story, Luna Grill