Want to know which 15 brands are knocking on the QSR 50's door? Some are old favorites, others are new to the list, but they're all trying their hardest to climb their way into the Top 50 ranks.
51 McAlister’s Deli rank last year: 52
While McAlister’s grew by only two units in 2011, its sales increased by more than $25 million over 2010. In April, the company announced a brand-wide redesign that will add bar stools and booths, WiFi, and a Tea Bar to stores. Customer loyalty appears solid, meanwhile, as a Technomic study revealed consumers aged 19–34 ranked McAlister’s the top fast-casual brand in terms of social responsibility and food quality.
52 Auntie Anne’s ( 51 )
Auntie Anne’s added 120 stores last year, almost half of them abroad, and celebrated its 23rd year of positive sales growth. The pretzel company also signed a $25,000 check to jumpstart its charitable partnership with pediatric cancer nonprofit Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, and in January began testing whole-grain pretzels.
53 Moe’s Southwest Grill ( 53 )
Moe’s was seeing green in 2011, between its first LEED-certified store in Williston, Vermont, and $381 million in sales. In fact, since unleashing its Food Mission in January 2011, Moe’s AUV increased by a whopping $114,000. The brand also inked a licensing deal with BJ’s Wholesale Club and shows no signs of slowing down, with a strategic plan to grow to 800 locations by the end of 2015.
54 Wingstop ( 54 )
In the 12 months leading up to this summer, Wingstop signed agreements to add more than 325 units, including 120 in Mexico, and celebrated its 500th location in Brooklyn. October ushered in the brand’s 10th flavor, Louisiana Rub, and the opening of rapper Rick Ross’ first unit. Super Bowl Sunday, meanwhile, resulted in monster sales of 5.6 million wings—a 12 percent boost over 2011’s Super Sunday—and helped Q1 sales soar 10.5 percent over Q1 2011.
55 Cold Stone Creamery ( 49 )
No. 49 on last year’s QSR 50, Cold Stone lost 36 net units last year and suffered a loss of nearly $20 million in year-over-year sales. Still, the chain remains in the game. It debuted frozen yogurt in stores nationwide last summer, rolled out a line of plated desserts, and signed franchise partners in Singapore, Greece, and Brazil.
56 Au Bon Pain ( 55 )
First, Au Bon Pain shelled out $500,000–$1 million per store to remodel flagship locations in Boston, installing snappy iPad ordering and sandwich and salad stations. The brand also boosted its menu by adhering to the cupcake craze and adding the frosted handhelds along with enhanced beverage options. Then, in New York City, remodeled stores began generating double-digit sales increases. Now, given the enthusiastic customer response, Au Bon Pain plans to take the makeover nationwide and expedite store openings this year.
57 Taco John’s ( 56 )
Taco John’s winged it last fall, to extremely positive results. The West-Mex chain enjoyed a $15 million boost in sales over 2010, thanks primarily to three varieties of wings that joined the menu in late October. Though originally intended to be a limited-time offer, wings increased sales so significantly, they may earn a permanent spot in the chain’s starting line-up.
58 Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes ( 57 )
The sustainable, healthy approach continues to pay off for Souplantation/Sweet Tomatoes, whose 192 restaurants boast the same AUV as McDonald’s. In February, the brand joined Kids LiveWell and in September, parent company Garden Fresh Restaurant Corp. became the largest restaurant chain in the nation to be certified by the Green Restaurant Association.
59 Firehouse Subs ( 60 )
Last year, the brand founded by firefighting brothers became the first national chain to host the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines in all its restaurants. Along the way, it added 79 stores and 80 new franchisees and entered 13 new markets, including its first international market. The Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, which puts a local face on the restaurant, also raised $1.8 million to donate to local fire and police departments and emergency medical services. This is one fire you don’t want to put out.
60 Baja Fresh ( 58 )
Get fresh, save the earth. That was Baja Fresh’s message in 2011, when the Mexican brand rolled out its Earth Fresh Initiative, which features recycled bags, unbleached recyclable burrito wrapping paper, and biodegradable plates. Though sales declined by $12 million from the previous year, the company is continuing its international expansion, announcing its first Singapore location.
61 Fuddruckers ( 59 )
A tough 2010—Fuddruckers filed for Chapter 11, closed nearly 50 units, and was purchased by Luby’s—set 2011 up as a recovery year. Sales dropped by $12 million, but Luby’s has lofty goals in mind for the burger company, including the first combined cafeteria-Fuddruckers unit, a Fuddruckers drive thru, and expansion into Mexico.
62 Corner Bakery Café ( 62 )
Corner Bakery Café retained its No. 62 spot following the acquisition of parent group Il Fornaio Corporation by Roark Capital Group in June 2011. System-wide sales grew to $261 million, up $14 million from 2010, and community work remained strong as the brand raised $268,000 during the 2011 Dine Out for No Kid Hungry. Millennial consumers, in fact, gave top marks to Corner Bakery Café for its charitable efforts and support of community organizations.
63 Charley’s Grilled Subs ( n/a )
A newcomer to the contenders list, Charley’s hired Bob Wright as the company’s first COO last April. Wright grew the brand by 30 units, emphasized international expansion, and received a promotion to president in January. Charley’s announced a play in the fast-casual category in December, unveiling Charley’s Philly Steaks, an upscale version that may have up to 10 locations open this year.
64 Schlotzsky’s ( 63 )
Turning 40 last year, Schlotzsky’s had much to celebrate. Things got “Lotz Better” when the rebranding project, which refreshed the menu and splattered store interiors with vibrant colors, boosted visits by 18–25-year-olds and doubled salad sales. All locations that open going forward will be tri-branded with Cinnabon and Carvel, an idea that began in 2009 and has increased AUV by $9,000. As the brand eyes its goal of 600–700 units by 2015, upping pizza sales will be the next target.
65 Jamba Juice ( 61 )
The company sold 173 units in 2011, refranchising to shift to an asset-light model, and signed Venus Williams as a franchisee. In January, Jamba launched BLEND Plan 2.0, which hopes to grow Jamba’s licensing category from 30,000 to 50,000 touch points and debut JambaGo, a new platform for nontraditional venues. A move in the tea category may be on the horizon, too, as Jamba acquired burgeoning tea company Talbott Teas in February.