Like the groundbreaking Cheesecake Factory before it, Fresh To Order (F20) is breaking all the rules with its cutting-edge approach to a new segment that it continues to pioneer, “fast fine.”

The largely franchised F2O is gaining rapid traction as it grows outside its Atlanta base, most recently with its development agreement with Giriam Patel, an experienced restaurant operator who plans to open eight restaurants in the highly competitive Orlando, Florida, market, a new market for F20.

Standing out in the crowded, widely embraced fast-casual segment, Fresh To Order is continuing its unprecedented growth spurt with hometown openings in Atlanta at Emory Point and on Concourse B at the Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International Airport.

The Emory area location is the third location for franchisees Narendra and Jay Patel, who also have units at Johns Creek and in Sandy Springs.

Atlanta-based Concessions International, owned by businessman and long-time restaurateur Herman J. Russell, is developing the Atlanta airport location. The two newest locations are the seventh and eighth for the brand.

Founder and CEO Pierre Panos, a veteran fine-dining restaurateur, began franchising Fresh To Order in 2011 and expects to grow his well-received chain to 50 restaurants over the next five years.

Built on the premise that it pays to stand out from the crowd, Panos believes that, “When everyone zigs, you zag.”

Panos, who instilled F2O with upgraded levels of service, sourcing, and ingredients, is convinced “fast fine” is going to rapidly move to the forefront of the highly competitive restaurant industry, with a plethora of copycat concepts sure to follow in its footsteps.

“This is a new niche, which is two steps above fast casual when it comes to quality,” he says. “We are going to bring really fresh, really fine, really fast to our guests, and we fully expect other foodservice entrepreneurs to follow suit.”

Fresh To Order, which adheres to the winning trifecta of flavorful, fresh, and affordable traditional favorites with a creative twist, is actively pursuing franchisees in the Southern states of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, and the Carolinas.

In 2013, F20 will open up markets in states in the mid-Atlantic and lower Midwest. Total costs for a franchisee to open a 2,700–3,000-square-foot location (after average landlord tenant improvement allowance) are expected to be between $450,000 and $650,000, with the average around $550,000.

With a chef-inspired menu that reflects bold flavors and uncategorically high-end dishes such as Brown Sugar Roasted Pork Loin, Grilled Salmon with Black Bean Orange Sauce, and a host of gluten-free delights, Fresh To Order is an innovative dining concept that combines the quality of food found in fine-dining restaurants with the operating platform and price point of the fast-casual segment.

Other crowd pleasers include a Salmon Panini with Roasted Corn Relish and Tarragon Aioli; a Spinach Salad with Blue Cheese Crumbles, Strawberries, and Seasonal Fruit; and a Bourbon Filet with Balsamic Cabernet Reduction and Garlic Jack Grit Cake.

“F2O offers flame-grilled, cooked-to-order, fine dining–quality food in an inviting, warm, and friendly atmosphere at a $10 price range, all in a 10-minute wait time,” Panos says. “It is truly the next evolution in the exciting and rapidly growing, fast-casual dining segment.

“The way we prepare our proteins enables us to get our food out really fast, most likely in the four to six minute range,” he continues, “but we wanted to give ourselves a little cushion.”

Founded in 2006, Fresh To Order has eight restaurants in Atlanta and in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and puts the guest clearly in the driver’s seat.

“F2O gives the control to the customer,” Panos says. “Our guests can custom-make a salad or sandwich in a fast-casual set-up, which is the hottest segment right now, and the one experiencing the greatest growth surge.”

Panos worked on the menu for F2O for about a year, teaming up with Jesse Gideon, former chef at Stoney River Legendary Steaks, before launching the first restaurant in Midtown Atlanta.

One of F2O’s strengths is with the dinner crowd, pulling in an uncharacteristic 40 percent of sales during that daypart.

“The menu is so unique and diverse that a customer can go back several times and not eat the same thing twice,” Panos says. “Our guests are enjoying our diverse offerings both at lunch and dinner, sometimes eating with business associates and at other times sharing a meal with family or friends.”

Panos, who founded Stoney River Legendary Steaks in 1996—which he sold to Nashville, Tennessee–based O’Charley’s in 2000—also owns Brookwood Grill in Roswell, Georgia, and 41 Papa Johns restaurants in four states as part of the QS America company.

Fresh To Order will be hosting a lunch in Orlando for real estate brokers and developers on Wednesday, December 5, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Bloodhound Brew in Whirly Dome.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Fast Casual, Growth, Menu Innovations, News, Fresh to Order