Special Report | April 2017 | By QSR Staff

The 40/40 List

Looking for the next big thing in limited service? These are the 40 fast casual 2.0 concepts with fewer than 40 units that we’d put our money on.
Mendocino Farms offers activities for kids and designs each location with its own localized flair. Mendocino Farms/David Kiang
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Everyone's always looking for the next big thing. It's true in pop culture, it's true in the stock market, and it's true in the technology sector.

And it's especially true in the limited-service restaurant industry. With the success of brands like Panera Bread, Chipotle, and Sweetgreen, industry watchers and fans alike are ready to pounce on the next brand that wows guests and investors and rides that momentum to monumental success.

With this inaugural 40/40 List, we'd like to offer our stamp of approval for those brands we think stand the best shot at becoming the next big thing. Consider this our 40 under 40—40 brands with fewer than 40 units—that homes in specifically on fast casual 2.0, that explosive industry category that bridges the gap between traditional fast-casual and casual-dining sectors. 

What separates fast casual 2.0 from the rest of the fast-casual industry? There were several characteristics we considered as we narrowed down this list. Fast casual 2.0 concepts are committed to: chef-driven menus and/or signature menu items; premium hospitality; a focus on experience rather than value; enhanced beverage programs, often including alcohol; high-quality and/or local, healthy ingredients; ambitions other than growth and profit; being cornerstones in their community; embracing peers through collaboration; entrepreneurship and innovation; and long-term relationships with stakeholders.

Is there a science to picking the next big thing in the restaurant industry? No. Nothing is a guarantee. But by evaluating unit count, expansion rate, buzz-worthiness, brand niches, and our general gut feeling, we think these 40 restaurant concepts—as described here by QSR editorial staff Sam Oches, Nicole Duncan, Danny Klein, and Alex Dixon—are the best bets out there today.


 

The 40/40 List

TIER ONE / The runaway trains


Mendocino Farms

Mendocino Farms

HQ: Los Angeles Units: 15

Sandwich concepts don't usually do 40 percent of their business during the dinner daypart. Sandwich concepts don't usually build out 3,000-square-foot spaces. Sandwich concepts don't usually do over $3 million in average unit volume (or $2 million, or $1 million).

Read more about Mendocino Farms


&pizza

&pizza

HQ: Washington, D.C. Units: 22

Michael Lastoria is walking through Washington, D.C.'s first micro-hotel. He's about to hit a milestone of sorts—the brand's 20th opening—and he couldn't have picked a more fitting backdrop than the forthcoming Hotel Hive. The nation's capital has never seen anything quite like it. The rooms are small, the design hip. It's a space showcasing the affordable side of luxury.

More about &pizza


Modern Market

Modern Market

HQ: Denver Units: 25

There's an anecdote from cofounder Anthony Pigliacampo that perhaps does the best job of explaining Modern Market's story. During a recent training session, he says, a future staff member shared an epiphany. "She was like, 'I can't believe you actually make this much of your food from scratch,'" Pigliacampo says. "I said, 'Well, it is on our website.'"

Read more about Modern Market


Tender Greens

Tender Greens

HQ: Los Angeles Units: 24

Relationships with local farmers and a focus on ingredients has been a driving force for Tender Greens since it started 11 years ago. Formed out of founders Erik Oberholtzer, David Dressler, and Matt Lyman's experience in fine dining, the brand has an executive chef at each location to oversee what it calls "slow food done fast."

See more about Tender Greens


Luna Grill

Luna Grill

HQ: San Diego Units: 35

For a concept that has grown to 35 locations in two states—and one that plans to open 18 new stores this year alone—it's hard to believe it took five years before Luna Grill even opened its second restaurant. But that was the case for this San Diego–based fast casual 2.0 brand, which launched in 2004 and waited until 2009 before opening the doors to store No. 2.

Learn more about Luna Grill


Luke's Lobster

Luke's Lobster

HQ: New York City Units: 27

The premium, shellfish-centric menu at Luke's Lobster easily puts it in the elite fast casual 2.0 category, but the brand's origin story is even more compelling. Maine native Luke Holden was working as an investment banker in New York City when the subpar quality and high prices of local lobster rolls inspired him to disrupt the market. Holden tapped into his contacts within the tight-knit community of fishermen in Maine; his father used to own a shellfish-processing plant, and Holden himself had spent childhood summers lobstering.

See more about Luke's Lobster


Dog Haus

Dog Haus

HQ: Pasadena, California Units: 21

Better-burger concepts populate much of the fast casual 2.0 space. The same cannot be said for sister cuisine hot dogs, which at best play a supporting role in premium burger restaurants. André Vener, Hagop Giragossian, and Quasim Riaz took note of this disparity, and in 2010 the partners opened the first Dog Haus in Pasadena, California. Within the first six months, the store had become profitable, and growth has been compounding ever since.

Read more about Dog Haus


Cava Grill

Cava Grill

HQ: Washington, D.C. Units: 28

Many retail concepts play it safe with expansion, growing first into nearby markets before moving outward in concentric circles to other cities and states. But not Cava Grill. The Mediterranean-based fast casual 2.0 was so confident in its brand that it leaped the entire country for its second market, making Los Angeles its first home away from its Washington, D.C., headquarters.

See more about Cava Grill


LemonadeX

Lemonade

HQ: Los Angeles Units: 27

Originally billed as "California comfort food," Lemonade is tweaking its motto—if not its foundation—in anticipation of a much larger footprint. The Los Angeles–based brand now considers itself a destination for seasonal food and refreshments.

See more about Lemonade


Twisted Root

Twisted Root

HQ: Dallas Units: 20

Twisted is an apt description for the Texas-based burger brand started in 2006. Offering build-your-own and specialty versions of the classic limited-service dish, Twisted Root Burger Company emphasizes the customer experience in a market chock-full of other burger concepts.

Read more about Twisted Root


 

 

The 40/40 List

TIER TWO / On the cusp of greatness


Dig Inn

Dig Inn

HQ: New York City Units: 15

Farm to table has become something of a standard restaurant descriptor these days, but Dig Inn considers itself the leader in "farm to counter." At this New York–based concept, local, seasonal fare is celebrated with a menu of market plates, salads, and sandwiches featuring naturally raised meats, and a variety of sides that change with the seasons.

Read more about Dig Inn


Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

HQ: Austin, Texas Units: 17

By all arguments, burgers are the pillar upon which family-friendly limited service was built. Hopdoddy Burger Bar, however, is not catering to the kiddies. Yes, the Texas-based concept slings shakes, burgers, and fries, but the menu and the atmosphere are decidedly grown-up.

Find more about Hopdoddy Burger Bar


SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza

SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza

HQ: Kansas City, Missouri Units: 17

In the past two years, SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza has embarked on a growth experiment. Training experienced staff to take the helm of new locations, the brand, which started in 2005 in the greater Kansas City area, opened 10 units, more than doubling its footprint. The company spread out its influence as well, opening a store in the San Francisco Bay Area, four in Dallas, three in Kansas City, one on the University of Central Missouri campus, and another in Lawrence, Kansas—home of the University of Kansas. Two more restaurants, in Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska, are under construction.

See more about SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza


Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches

Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches

HQ: Seattle Units: 13

Social entrepreneurship finds a home in the limited-service industry at Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches, a Seattle-based sandwich concept that has expanded to 10 locations in the Pacific Northwest and three in California's Bay Area.

Read more about Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches


FUSIAN

FUSIAN

HQ: Columbus, Ohio Units: 11

Brothers Zach and Josh Weprin, along with childhood friend Stephan Harman, were spending their post-college years working at a ski resort in Aspen, Colorado, when they had an idea: What if they opened a sushi restaurant that was easily accessible to everyone?

See more about FUSIAN


Larkburger

Larkburger

HQ: Denver Units: 12

When Colorado-based Larkburger announced that Todd Coerver was joining the brand as CEO in September, leaving his post at 170-plus-unit Taco Cabana, the writing on the wall became legible. The 10-year-old, locally revered better-burger chain was ready for primetime.

See more about Larkburger


Honeygrow

Honeygrow

HQ: Philadelphia Units: 16

Since Honeygrow's founding in Philadelphia less than five years ago, growth has been aggressive. The brand, which focuses on wholesome eating through stirfries and salads, has built 16 stores since 2012 and still turns down the vast majority of opportunities evaluated, says founder Justin Rosenberg.

Read more about Honeygrow


Super Duper Burgers

Super Duper Burgers

HQ: San Francisco Units: 10

As one of 11 concepts within the portfolio of Back of the House Inc., a San Francisco–based hospitality company, Super Duper Burgers leverages resources shared across a team of expert restaurateurs.

Back of the House was started by Adriano Paganini, a chef who built up the Pasta Pomodoro chain of casual Italian restaurant restaurants in the '90s and early 2000s before exiting the business in 2009 and opting to explore new concept development. That first led to two full-service eateries and then to Super Duper.

See more about Super Duper Burgers


Dos Toros

Dos Toros

HQ: New York City Units: 13

Dos Toros founders and brothers Leo and Oliver Kremer wanted to bring the tastes of northern California to New York City when they opened the concept in 2009. And customers responded; the brand has opened 13 locations in New York, with a Chicago location coming soon.

Read more about Dos Toros


Fresh To Order

Fresh To Order

HQ: Atlanta Units: 13

Since its founding in 2006, Fresh To Order has stressed steady growth dictated by the right partnerships. That's the case with both its sourcing partners—the brand looks to several regional suppliers for the ingredients that make up its plates, sandwiches, salads, and burgers—and its franchise partners.

See more about Fresh To Order


 

 

The 40/40 List

TIER THREE / The pieces are all there


Bunk Sandwiches

Bunk Sandwiches

HQ: Portland, Oregon Units: 10

As cofounder Matt Brown puts it, Bunk was started by "three indie-rock dudes" who didn't have a dime. Brown and partners Nick Wood and Tommy Habetz quit the fine-dining eatery where they worked in Portland, Oregon, and opted to open a sandwich concept set to a backdrop of rock music.

Chef Habetz, who worked at Mario Batali's Pó in New York City, gives the brand serious food chops. Sandwiches include the Vietnamese Pork and Shrimp Meatball Bahn Mi, the Pork Belly Cubano, and the Oregon Albacore Tuna Melt. There are regular specials, a range of sides, and beer, soda, juice, tea, and coffee.

Since starting in 2008, Bunk has grown to five brick-and-mortar units in Portland and five stands in sport arenas. As for future locations, Brown says, it would be "ridiculous to spout a number," but he adds that the leaders are negotiating a lot right now, including exploring a New York City location to replace the recently closed Brooklyn venue.


Clover Food Lab

Clover Food Lab

HQ: Boston Units: 12

Many brands tout transparency in their menus and mission statements. But it would be hard to find a restaurant more ingrained in that ethos than Clover Food Lab, a vegetarian concept housed in food trucks and brick-and-mortar stores throughout the Boston area. There's the recipe development process that's open to the public and the fact that the brand sources its ingredients regionally. The company's founder, MIT material science graduate and Harvard MBA Ayr Muir, will even tell guests about Clover's mistakes on its website, like the time he OK'd the wrong lighting fixture at a new location.

Clover isn't hiding behind red tape when it comes to future growth, either. Lucia Jazayeri, the company's director of communications, lightly says: "We want to be bigger than McDonald's some day." If so, there's no question we'll all have a front-row seat to enjoy the ride.


East Hampton Sandwich Co.

East Hampton Sandwich Co.

HQ: Dallas Units: 8

Graduating from college during the Great Recession, Hunter Pond did what many others his age did: He went back to college, hoping the job opportunities would reappear on the other side of a graduate degree. But in the midst of law school, Pond found himself daydreaming of becoming a restaurateur. He quit school, went to work as a dishwasher at a pizza joint, and started putting together a business plan.

"I started studying the market, and I thought that my best chance to succeed was if I identified a void in the marketplace and exploited it," he says. "It's what any good businessman does." That void, Pond discovered, was gourmet sandwiches. And after bootstrapping $450,000 from friends and family and designing the menu himself, Pond opened the first East Hampton near Southern Methodist University's campus in Dallas in 2012.

East Hampton's sandwich options are decidedly upscale, with options ranging from the Roast Chicken & Ranch and the Sweet Chicken Parm for $8.25 to the Balsamic Tenderloin and the Lobster Grilled Cheese for $12.95. Sides include potato salad and sweet potato fries, while there are also salads, chowders, desserts, and a kids' menu.

As for the name, Pond says he wanted to communicate to customers the high level of quality before they even walked in the door. He matched that level of quality with a store design that he says feels like someone's home kitchen.

"I like to describe it as a 50 percent better dining experience with a 15 percent higher price point," he says.

While all East Hampton growth has stayed in the Dallas-Fort Worth market so far, Pond hopes to expand to Austin, San Antonio, and Houston next, with Denver, Atlanta, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., in the crosshairs. He envisions opening 50–75 units in the next five years, with all of the growth remaining corporate.


Chi'Lantro<

Chi'Lantro

HQ: Austin, Texas Units: 5

Like several young operations in the U.S., Chi'Lantro got its start as a food truck, hitting the streets of Austin in 2010 serving Korean barbecue and the cult favorite Original Kimchi Fries (fries topped with caramelized kimchi, cheddar and Monterey jack cheeses, onions, cilantro, "magic sauce," sesame seeds, sriracha, and a choice of five proteins).

But where many food trucks have failed to make the natural progression into brick and mortar, Chi'Lantro has thrived as an Austin-based mini-chain that is now ready to take on the rest of Texas—and the rest of the world.

"Our vision is to be the leading fast-casual Korean barbecue brand in the world," says founder and CEO Jae Kim. "We inspire the way people eat, think about, and experience Korean barbecue."

The company does that through its diverse menu, which includes bowls, salads, burgers, tacos, and burritos—all of it with a guest's choice of protein and add-ons like guacamole, kimchi, and queso—as well as Korean-fried chicken wings and shareable starters.

Last year, Kim was featured on the popular ABC show "Shark Tank" and scored a $600,000 investment from real estate mogul and show regular Barbara Corcoran in return for 20 percent equity. He hopes to turn that investment into a launching-off point that will lead to Chi'Lantro becoming a household name across the country and a billion-dollar brand.


Pizzeria Locale<

Pizzeria Locale

HQ: Boulder, Colorado Units: 7

Expectations are understandably high for Pizzeria Locale. Not only is the restaurant operated by Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, a James Beard Award winner, but it is also backed by the big daddy of fast casual itself: Chipotle.

When Mackinnon-Patterson and Bobby Stuckey opened Frasca Food & Wine in 2004 in Boulder, Colorado, Chipotle founder Steve Ells was a regular guest. He would even step into the kitchen and cook on occasion. With Ells' help, a partnership was formed and the team devised a plan to turn the full-service Pizzeria Locale, which opened in 2011, into a fast-casual operation. They simplified the menu and leaned on Chipotle's backbone: high-quality ingredients delivered quickly.

The Southern Italy–inspired pizza is cooked in a 900 F oven in two minutes. Pizzeria Locale has since expanded to two Denver locations, two in Kansas, one in Missouri, and two in Ohio. And the founders hope it's just the beginning.

"Pizzeria Locale has had steady growth to this point," Mackinnon-Patterson says. "Our focus has always been and will always be on quality versus quantity. We are continually fine-tuning and striving to improve all aspects of the guest experience, and know that focusing on our guests is the recipe for long-term success."


Taylor Gourmet

Taylor Gourmet

HQ: Washington, D.C. Units: 16

At Taylor Gourmet, it's all about the hoagie. Inspired by the authentic versions served in his hometown of Philadelphia, cofounder Casey Patten has grown the brand to 16 units in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding area.

Patten says the brand's approach to food has set it apart from other sandwich competitors; Taylor Gourmet's staff does everything from roast turkey and braise pork to create stocks and risotto in-house every day. He adds that those employees are the key to growth going forward, as they provide the backbone to a great customer experience at all of the locations.

"This business is all about people, and having amazing people in our family is the most important part to us," he says.


Slapfish

Slapfish

HQ: Huntington Beach, California Units: 8

Slapfish founder and CEO Andrew Gruel is on a mission to overcome widespread misconceptions about seafood.

"There is a lot of misinformation regarding how much to eat and what to eat, but in the end, a lot of this is alarmist and built to generate headlines to sell ads," Gruel says. "We need to eat more seafood. We are getting people to do so by offering them the quality of finer dining at the cost and convenience of faster food; we are redefining seafood."

With a focus on sustainability, Slapfish offers a new take on familiar dishes, like the "Clobster" Grilled Cheese with crab, lobster, cabbage, and "awesome sauce."

While Slapfish now has eight units, Gruel says that in the next five years he envisions growing the brand through franchising to 100 locations, which will all showcase a constantly changing menu of well-managed seafood.


Melt Shop

Melt Shop

HQ: New York City Units: 8

Spencer Rubin opened the first Melt Shop location on his 25th birthday in 2011, and since then the sandwich concept has grown to four locations in Manhattan and four mall locations beyond the Big Apple—including one in the Mall of America.

Given the name, guests might mistakenly assume the Melt Shop is a one-trick pony, doling out only a few varieties of grilled cheese. Premium cheeses (think aged cheddar, gruyère, and muenster) are a big part of each sandwich, but the offerings go far beyond the classic rendition. The Buffalo features fried chicken, pepper jack, and blue cheese buffalo sauce, while The Big Skinny combines mozzarella, grilled mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, red peppers, and arugula with sherry vinaigrette.

Hearty salads, soups, and fries round out the savory items, and milkshakes—a must in many fast-casual joints—find a home on the menu, with funky flavors like Nutella and chocolate truffle.


Num Pang

Num Pang

HQ: New York City Units: 8

First opened as a counter-service spinoff of what was one of the only Cambodian restaurants in New York, Num Pang has grown using what cofounder Ben Daitz calls "gut instinct."

But with eight units and more planned, the brand—which dishes Cambodia-inspired sandwiches, bowls, salads, and sides—has stepped away from that approach and relied more on analytics. Num Pang opened its first location outside New York at the Prudential Center in Boston, and while Daitz says that sustaining a high level of consistency in multiple markets will be challenging, he believes the team is ready.

"We blend the bold flavors of Southeast Asia and urban culture together into an impeccably executed and memorable experience, in a comfortable and vibrant environment," Daitz says. "To date, I don't see anyone else doing that."


Urban Plates

Urban Plates

HQ: San Diego Units: 11

Nothing about Urban Plates comes without calculation. Founder and CEO Saad Nadhir, who was a principal in the early development of quick-service giant Boston Market, conducted extensive consumer research when mapping out the future. After all, it was research that first sparked the idea for the brand.

"My partner and I studied American and even global food trends in 2010, and concluded that offering a more wholesome menu in a fast-casual format would be enthusiastically received by consumers," Nadhir says.

What started as one restaurant in Del Mar, California, has since grown to 11 units throughout the state, from San Diego to Los Angeles and the Bay Area. Urban Plates, which is known for its open food line where guests can talk to chefs and customize their meals and nutritional needs, has its sights set on further West Coast expansion, as well as East Coast and Midwest locations.


Tarka Indian Kitchen

Tarka Indian Kitchen

HQ: Austin, Texas Units: 5

As Tarka Indian Kitchen has grown in its home state of Texas, CEO and cofounder Tinku Saini has never failed to be surprised. He admits that's because he had no idea what to expect.

When the brand began in 2009 with a location in Austin, Saini says, he and his cofounders hoped they would make $1 million, perhaps even $1.25 million, in annual sales. The reality? Guests fell in love with the traditional Indian fare like curries, samosas, kabobs, and naan, and lines wrapped around the corner on day one. That store is well over $2 million in annual sales.

Now Tarka has four locations in the Lone Star State's capital city, as well as one in San Antonio. In 2017, Saini says, two Houston units will open, while another Austin store is scheduled for 2018. The plan is to double the footprint by the end of 2018 or early 2019. At that point, Saini will set the brand's trajectory to national.

"We believe we can get to hundreds of these units around the country, not to mention the world," he says. "Around the country, in every major metropolitan market, there's no reason why there can't be multiple stores."


Pincho Factory

Pincho Factory

HQ: Miami Units: 9

For such humble beginnings (two brothers and their cousin hatching an idea to combine burgers and kebabs during a family cookout), Pincho Factory has bold plans. The Miami-born concept specializing in build-your-own pitas, bowls, and salads with a choice of pinchos (kebabs) is working toward 50 units in Florida and eventually around 500 nationwide.

"Guests are demanding more regional and authentic flavors. We have creatively combined burgers and kebabs and given it a Latin flavor. That has truly given us a competitive advantage, and the result has been an amazing brand loyalty factor," says cofounder and partner Otto Othman. He and
fellow cofounders Nedal and Nizar Ahmad opened the first restaurant in 2010—a feat that left Nedal Ahmad with less than $7 in his bank account—and now the brand could be on its way to Cinderella-like success.

In terms of brand recognition, Othman says it already has a cult-like following. When Pincho Factory removed its award-winning Croquetesa Burger, made with plantains, from the menu, a fan started a change.org petition to bring it back. "Our guests are diehard Pincho fans, and we love them," Othman says.


Mighty Quinn's

Mighty Quinn's

HQ: New York City Units: 10

With a focus on barbecue, Mighty Quinn's is bringing an underrepresented food style into urban markets through the fast casual 2.0 format.

"What sets us apart from similar formats is that fast-casual service is the foundation of real barbecue," says cofounder Micha Magid. "You want to see your meat sliced in front of you. We're not trying to force a trendy food category onto a service line."

The brand has seven locations in New York and New Jersey, and three franchised units in Asia, but the brand takes a measured approach to growth; Magid says the team has passed on several growth opportunities. Still, focusing just on the New York City area has its challenges, and he says "too many brands are chasing the same real estate and customer base," which is driving up rent.

"This will take some time for the market to flush out, but we're patient and always opportunistic when the right deal presents itself," Magid says. "We plan on continuing to expand in our existing markets, and we'll make the jump to other regions when the time is right. Barbecue is so universally loved; we're excited about where we can go next."


Beefsteak

Beefsteak

HQ: Washington, D.C. Units: 5

The first fast-casual restaurant in José Andrés' ThinkFoodGroup already has the cachet, but this veggie-centric brand also has the chops to drive its own success.

The first Beefsteak opened in Washington, D.C., two years ago and has since grown to four units in the greater D.C. area, along with one at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The brand has designs on a national presence, but first it's polishing the operation and figuring out its place in the fast-casual world. One restaurant is in a mall, another is on a college campus, and still another is in a hospital. This initial mix of locations is helping Beefsteak home in on its core audience segments, refine the concept, and think strategically about future growth, says executive chef Pat Peterson.

While many of Andrés' full-service concepts spotlight different countries and regions (from the Middle East and Spain to the Americas), Beefsteak is cuisine-agnostic and instead allows guests to build their own bowls or order chef-created salads, soups, sandwiches, and bowls.

"Our mission is to unleash the power of vegetables to bring 'good food, fast' to the world," Peterson says. "Beefsteak was an exciting opportunity to apply [our] experience to a new kind of fast casual, with chef-driven food at an affordable price point and in a fun and fresh environment."


The Little Beet

The Little Beet

HQ: New York City Units: 6

Billed as "guiltin' free," The Little Beet was developed with Franklin Becker, a "Top Chef Masters" alum and former chef at such fine-dining establishments as New York's Brasserie. Having been diagnosed with diabetes is his 20s, Becker now focuses on the healthy side of cooking and opened the gluten-free fast casual in 2013. The concept later joined Aurify Brands, which counts Melt Shop and Fields Good Chicken among its portfolio (Becker is no longer affiliated with the brand).

The Little Beet now numbers six stores—four in Manhattan (including an outpost at the Pennsy food hall above Penn Station), one on Long Island, and one in Washington, D.C. It has also spun off a full-service sister concept, The Little Beet Table, with locations in New York and Chicago.

Eschewing the standard limited-service formula, The Little Beet has a menu built around plates wherein guests fill their plates with proteins like veggie patties, steak, and salmon, as well as warm sides (collard greens and kimchi among them) and cool sides (like chilled sesame broccoli). Everything—plates, bowls, rolls, soups, juices, and sauces—is gluten-free.


 

 

The 40/40 List

TIER FOUR / Just getting started


HipCityVeg

HipCityVeg

HQ: Philadelphia Units: 4

HipCityVeg's quality has taken precedence over its expansion. Since founder Nicole Marquis opened the doors in 2012, quality, consistency, and service have been paramount as the brand expanded to four locations (three in Philadelphia and one in Washington, D.C.).

These days, HipCityVeg, which promotes a plant-based diet with fresh, organic, and often local ingredients, has built a restaurant strong enough to confidently do both. Two of its locations opened in 2016, and there's a chance the footprint could double this year.


Marination

Marination

HQ: Seattle Units: 5

With a goal of bringing "aloha to more people's lives," Seattle-based Marination melds Hawaiian and Asian flavors with a diverse business model. The brand has one food truck, three fast-casual shops, and one full-service unit, in addition to operating a commissary kitchen and catering program that supports all locations.

Cofounder Roz Edison says the brand's growth has been "strategically opportunistic" by vetting opportunities for alignment with company culture, capacity, and capability. "We are not a cookie-cutter business with cloned locations, or an easily franchisable menu," Edison says. "We are a unique family of restaurant operations, and growth has to work within the diverse nature of our company."


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Dish Society

HQ: Houston Units: 2

Dish Society founder Aaron Lyons describes his fast casual 2.0 operation as a "$30 experience for $15," a destination for high-quality plated meals with the speed and convenience customers need in the midst of their busy lives.

The two-unit operation features a full bar, a chef-driven menu, and brunch service, but it also switches over to table service for the dinner daypart. This flex-casual model, Lyons says, gives the company an opportunity to maximize its real estate by offering a more robust dinner business.


Souvla

Souvla

HQ: San Francisco Units: 3

A product of Cornell's Hospitality Management program and a veteran of esteemed fine-dining kitchens like Thomas Keller's The French Laundry, Charles Bililies wanted to bring authentic Greek food and wine to the masses in an upscale limited-service format.

Enter Souvla, the "fine-casual" restaurant he opened in San Francisco's Hayes Valley neighborhood in 2014 and has since grown to three locations in the Bay Area. Inspired by traditional souvlaki restaurants in Greece, the eatery serves naturally raised meats via rotisserie in fresh-baked pita bread, along with salads and Greek yogurt sauces. Souvla also offers frozen Greek yogurt and one of the strongest Greek wine lists in the entire U.S.

Bililies says he plans to keep Souvla's growth modest—no more than one to two per year—and that beyond San Francisco, he anticipates opening the brand in similarly iconic cities and neighborhoods.


Mimi Cheng's

Mimi Cheng's

HQ: New York City Units: 2

Sisters Hannah and Marian Cheng left successful careers in finance and fashion, respectively, to start a dumpling restaurant that featured their mother's secret family recipes. Quality is top mind for the brand, which partners with local butchers and nearby farms to source organic, sustainable ingredients. Family is at the core of the menu, with each item including a short anecdote about its inspiration, from picking zucchini in a friend's garden to incorporating more veggies in their own diets during their father's vegetarian phase.

Mimi Cheng's now has two locations in Manhattan and is earning plenty of buzz—the sisters were even profiled by Vogue last fall.