Founders: Larry Foles, Guy Villavaso, Larry Perdido, & Chuck Smith

Headquarters: Austin, Texas

Units: 10

At Austin, Texas–based Hopdoddy Burger Bar, a group of business partners have gone all in on the better-burger category. But, in an effort to do something different than the dozens of better-burger brands that have sprung up around the country, the team elected to position Hopdoddy as an upscale counter-service concept that has a full bar and makes everything itself, from the meat to the buns to several components of the bar.

Fast Casual 2.0

Some of the leaders driving the industry's next great wave.

At Hopdoddy, which was founded in 2010, guests order at the counter and wait for their food to be run out, and while they’re waiting, can order a drink at the bar and soak in all of the visual cues that denote a high-quality experience. “You see our meat-grinding room,” says CEO Dan Mesches. “You smell our bakery and see the bakers working. You see the craft spirits at the bar. You see the local beers on tap.”

The core of the Hopdoddy menu is its premium burgers, which include options like the Terlingua, with Angus beef, chile con carne, corn fritos, and “Sassy Sauce”; the K-Town Belly, with grass-fed beef, braised pork belly, kimchi, house-made gochujang, Korean rice crispies, mayo, and basil leaves; and the Thunderbird, with chicken, Pepper Jack, apple-smoked bacon, avocado, seared poblanos, pico de gallo, and chipotle mayo. There are also salads and milkshakes, as well as sides like Truffle Fries, Chile Con Queso, and Harvest Quinoa. The bar, meanwhile, includes several craft beers on tap—including local options—and signature cocktails.

Hopdoddy has grown to 10 locations in four states and is looking at additional growth opportunities across the country. Mesches says the company’s leaders aren’t interested in “growth for growth’s sake,” and plan to grow at the right pace as the right opportunities present themselves. But more important than how many locations they have, Mesches says, is the culture they build into Hopdoddy as it grows. After all, with such a high-quality experience, Hopdoddy requires higher-caliber employees than a traditional fast-casual setting.

“We’re looking for people who have the spirit, who want to be part of the change, who want to grow with us and be proud of what we do,” he says. “We would love it if, the people who work with us, we’re the last restaurant job they ever have, that they continue in our company up through the ranks, or, if it’s a segue in their life, they can go on to what their chosen area is.”

That kind of culture gives Hopdoddy a boost as a Fast Casual 2.0 forefather. Mesches says the brand is positioned to appeal to casual customers looking for a faster but quality experience, as well as limited-service customers hoping for better quality. “We’re giving a very similar experience in a little bit of a different environment, but from a quality level, we’re levels above what people would have thought of a few years ago,” he says.

Image Credit: Nick Simonite