Last year, we had an epiphany: So much of the fast-casual innovation we kept raving about was flowing out of the same set of emerging brands that had only a handful of locations at best. Those young pups were forcing much larger brands to re-evaluate their own operations as the upstarts thrived in cities across the country.
We chose to recognize those young brands much like other publications recognize young leaders: with a 40 Under 40 list, only in our case, qualifying entrants by locations rather than age. We identified core criteria for what set those fast casual 2.0 chains apart: chef-driven menus, premium hospitality, a focus on experience rather than value, enhanced beverage programs, high-quality ingredients, ambitions other than growth and profit, a collaborative spirit, and commitment to long-term relationships with stakeholders.
Last year’s curated 40/40 List was so successful that we’re bringing it back—and we’re taking it one step further. Rather than identify the same set of brands year after year until they crack the 40-unit ceiling—yawn—we figured that, just like those 40 Under 40 lists, we’d graduate the whole class and introduce you to a brand-new set of innovators.