of New Orleans
A Taste of Louisiana
A brand with as much history and soul as the city it’s named after, PJ’s Coffee was founded with the mission to brew with better beans and superior roasting processes. Growing at a slow-and-steady pace until its acquisition by Raving Brands in 2002, the coffee brand opened several new units in its hometown of New Orleans this year, while also turning its focus to nontraditional growth in locations like casinos, hospitals, universities, military bases, and airports.
And after 35 years, the brand’s fans will finally be able to purchase PJ’s coffee outside of its cafés, with the introduction of single-serve coffee cups in four different roasts earlier this year.
Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes
Aside from CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, not many brands in the quick-service industry are known for their dual personality. But 35-year-old Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes are an exception. Born in San Diego as Souplantation—a healthy-food chain focused on delivering wholesome but tasty dining options to its health-minded customers—the brand quickly branched out and created the Sweet Tomatoes side of the business for units outside of its Southern California comfort zone.
The dual brand kicked off its 35th anniversary with a fresh start in January—literally. The Fresh Start menu gives guests new menu choices like the Roasted Vegetable Tossed Salad, Whole Wheat Tomato Spinach Hot Pasta, and Banana Crunch Muffin Tops.
Center of the Plate
Smoothies weren’t the focus of the health-food concept that later became Smoothie King, but they’re certainly the star of the show now. They’re also increasingly a staple of health-conscious diners looking for a low-calorie source of fruit, vegetables, vitamins, and minerals, says Richard Leveille, vice president of franchise development and real estate for the 625-plus-unit chain.
“We’ve taken the smoothie and moved it from the side of the plate to the center of the plate,” he says. “We really don’t consider us a beverage, although we are a liquid product. We believe that we’re liquid nutrition; we’re a meal in a cup.”
After an acquisition in 2012 by South Korean businessman Wan Kim—who now holds the position of global CEO—Leveille says the brand has been able to grow more rapidly than ever before.
“We’re no longer a conservative franchised brand waiting for people to call us, waiting to have to make decisions, waiting for somebody to complain before we react,” he says. “Now we’re extremely proactive, extremely aggressive.”
In an attempt to attract new franchisees, the brand kicked off its 40th anniversary with a franchise incentive program that awarded 40 percent off the franchise fee for the first 40 agreements signed in 2013. The program has already paid off handsomely: In the next several years, the brand will develop an estimated 800 franchise units, along with 200 corporate-owned units.
Smoothie King celebrated its fourth decade in business not only with franchisees, but with customers, too. Its six-week “Lean Into Life” campaign gave away thousands of dollars in gift cards to fans over the age of 40 who are living a healthy lifestyle and inspiring others to do the same.
With an abundance of players in the pizza segment, Michigan-based Hungry Howie’s knew it had to separate itself from the pack when it hit the market in 1973. The answer: flavored crusts. The 545-plus-unit pizza chain offers guests crust choices of the likes of Butter Cheese, Sesame, Onion, and Ranch.
Hungry Howie’s upped its crust game even further this year to celebrate 40 years in business, giving fans the chance to revel in a new limited-time flavored crust each month, including Cajun, Cheese Puff, and Cheesy Garlic flavors. It also jumped into the deep end in early 2013, debuting its first-ever deep-dish option. That should help as a growing crop of fast-casual pizza competitors continue to creep up.
Innovation On a Roll
Long a power player in the pizza segment, Pizza Hut shows no signs of slowing down in its 55th year. In 2013 alone, the brand—launched by a set of brothers with the $600 their mother gave them as an investment—debuted fresh items like pizza sliders, flatbreads, and the $7.99 Hut Lovers Deal.
But it didn’t forget about its longtime, loyal fans. Rewarding customers for 55 years of business, the biggest pizza chain on the globe offered them a large, one-topping pizza for just $5.55 for 10 days in June.
Family Dining Goes Fast Casual
What started as a small doughnut shop on the West Coast in 1953 and officially became Denny’s six years later has blossomed into one of the biggest family-dining chains to hit the scene over its 60-year history. Its signature item, the Grand Slam Breakfast combo, made its debut in 1977, and in 2010, a version of the popular item was served up at the brand’s newly launched fast-casual concept, Denny’s Fresh Express.
The brand also stunned guests in 2012 with the opening of a Vegas flagship that includes everything from a full bar and photo booth to a wedding chapel and supper club. During its 60th year in business, Denny’s has unveiled new coffee blends, a revamped value menu, 14 new menu additions, and the LTO Complete Skillet Meals menu.