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Sbarro has fallen on hard times in recent years. The New York–style pizza chain filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after malls across America—Sbarro’s bread and butter real estate—faded from retail relevance. In addition, the fast-casual pizza category rose to power in the same time frame, proving the most daunting competitive threat to the delivery guys. As neither a fast casual nor delivery brand, Sbarro was lost in the middle.
But a new executive team—headed by CEO and former Wendy’s exec David Karam—is committed to salvaging Sbarro’s heritage, which includes being founded by Gennaro and Carmela Sbarro 60 years ago as an Italian grocery in New York. The company updated its logo and branding, and is investing in both non-mall real estate and more high-quality pizza as part of an enhanced menu strategy.
Founded in April 1971 by Gerald Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegl, the original Starbucks store in Seattle’s Pike Place Market was a quaint outlet full of character and coffee aroma. The product, namely dark-roasted blends, took center stage. None of the men envisioned a business empire.
Fast forward 45 years, and Howard Schultz—who joined Starbucks in 1982 as its marketing chief and was inspired by Italian coffee bars—has turned the coffee brand into just that. Starbucks is now the No. 2 limited-service restaurant in the U.S., growing on the strength of its beverage innovation, mobile ordering and loyalty platforms, and commitment to its employees. Just this year, the company upped that team-member commitment, pledging to increase pay, improve benefits, and evolve the dress code across the country.
Forty years after Joe Tortorice Jr. opened the first Jason’s Deli in Beaumont, Texas, the fast casual remains family owned and committed to wholesome, natural ingredients.
The 260-unit chain celebrated year No. 40 with the return of its Deli Cowboy sandwich, which includes a half-pound of brisket, barbecue sauce, melted Cheddar, and red onions on New Orleans French bread. The Deli Cowboy was inspired by the Pork Rib Po’boys at J’s BBQ & Washateria, the restaurant owned by Tortorice’s father, Joe Tortorice Sr.
While some chains are perfectly capable of thriving in one particular region (looking at you, Pal’s), others, like Capriotti’s, appear capable of thriving in two. Founded in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1976, Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop took root in the West when its founders moved to Las Vegas in 1991.
Eventually, franchisees Ashley Morris and Jason Smylie purchased the company from the founders and now serve as CEO and CMO, respectively. They’ve grown the chain to more than 100 locations in 18 states.
In June, to celebrate the big 4-0, Capriotti’s hosted a “Celebrating Extraordinary 40” initiative and sweepstakes, through which customers had the opportunity to win $40 gift cards.
“It’s an acknowledgement of committing to the brand promise for an extended period of time and continuing to be engaged with the customers,” Smylie says of celebrating the chain’s big anniversary with customers.
Smylie adds that it was important for the company to communicate its heritage to guests who might not know how significant it is to be a fast casual that has come this far. “We’ve been through recessions; we’ve been through challenging times where a lot of brands have faltered on what they were founded on and cut quality,” he says. “We’ve kind of stayed consistent with what we’ve been offering our customers for this long. And I think it’s important to point out that milestone to reinforce that we’re not going anywhere, and we’re not changing what we’re doing.”
Fortunately for Capriotti’s, guests don’t want it to go anywhere. The better-sandwich category is gaining steam, positioning the brand to capitalize on the trend toward high-quality food.
“There’s a huge trend toward high-quality, all-natural ingredients, and our founder was really ahead of her time, because we’ve been doing that for 40 years,” Smylie says. “I think what we’re doing today resonates well with the younger generation, who is trying to eat real food.”
It took 35 years, but Buona, The Original Italian Beef—destination for one of the Chicago area’s most iconic dishes—finally opened its first shop within Chicago city limits this year. The restaurant opened in the Beverly neighborhood in March.
Founded in 1981 by the Buonavolanto family, Buona uses a secret family recipe that stems back to the original beef stands in the stockyards. The concept grew to 17 locations in the Chicagoland area and in recent years has updated its menu and branding to better fall in line with fast-casual trends.
Quiznos celebrated its 35th anniversary this summer with a $3.50 deal for Ciabatta Toasties. But that’s about all the sandwich chain, which was founded by Jimmy Lambatos in Denver in 1981, has to celebrate at the moment. Down to fewer than 1,000 U.S. locations after growing to nearly 5,000, the toasted sandwich chain is in the midst of another executive-team overhaul after CEO Doug Pendergast stepped down earlier this year.
As one of the first limited-service chains to offer entrée-sized salads, Saladworks has grown to more than 100 locations in 15 states through a franchise program that launched in 2001. But the Pennsylvania-based concept went through a rocky patch in 2014 and 2015, including a power struggle between investors and founder John Scardapane and, eventually, bankruptcy.
But if your 20s are for finding yourself and your 30s are for settling down, then Saladworks—which is now owned by private equity firm Centre Lane Partners—is right on track. The chain is in the midst of a rebranding, which includes the hiring of CEO and president Patrick Sugrue as well as executive chef Andy Revella.
For their first two decades in business, Jerry Murre ll and his four sons—the five eponymous guys—were well known across the Washington, D.C., area for their indulgent burgers and fries. And with the explosive launch of their franchise program in 2003, they’ve become known for the same thing from the East Coast to the West.
The burger franchise celebrated is big anniversary with employees, challenging them to a photo contest in which team members were to come together for snapshots of their excitement for the anniversary and national company conference. Winning photos scored a $1,000 prize.
The Connecticut–based chain has been through some big transitions in its history, but has always stuck to its hometown burger-joint roots. What started as Jake’s Hamburgers in 1991 became Jake’s Wayback Burgers when it launched its franchise program in the late 2000s and, eventually, just Wayback Burgers.
The company celebrated 25 years on February 21 with a $3.99 deal for a Wayback Classic Cheeseburger with purchase of any side and any drink.