The QSR 50

  • The 50 brands setting the pace in the quick-service and fast-casual restaurant industries.

    flickr / powerplantop


    Church’s Chicken

    rank last year: 28

    Sales and unit counts may have been flat over 2011 at Church’s Chicken, but it wasn’t for lack of trying new things. LTOs like the Texas Chicken, Big Tex Tender Sandwich, and Ultimate Value Trio of three chicken sandwiches all found their way to the menu in the last year, while the bigger Honey Butter Biscuit further enticed fans of its biscuit staple. New ad agency ESW Partners cooked up this year’s “Almost Free” campaign, which used a very tongue-in-cheek manner to promote the value behind Church’s offer of two pieces of chicken and a biscuit for $1.99.



    rank last year: 31

    Celebrating its 35th year in business, Bojangles’ enjoyed a $100 million sales bump in 2012 over 2011 and added another 30 stores as it continued its slow growth outward from its home base in the Carolinas. A new premium medium roast coffee, BoJo, gave Southerners more reason to come in for the signature chicken biscuit, but the brand’s first major new product in more than five years, Homestyle Tenders, might be a play for transplant Yankees; the mild Tenders dial back the spicy level just a touch.


    Steak ‘n Shake

    rank last year: 30

    CEO Sardar Biglari will have to try a little harder if he wants to blow people away with his success at Steak ‘n Shake. The investment banker probably isn’t thrilled with the fact that sales and store counts were essentially flat in 2012, even after the company committed to more franchising and debuted its snazzy new Signature store prototype. The company did announce its first international franchise agreement, for the United Arab Emirates, but more domestic excitement might be necessary to bring the Midwest burger favorite back to prominence.



    rank last year: 32

    Having committed much of 2011 to developing healthful menu options and promoting its down-home authenticity, Culver’s used 2012 to reimage several stores and lay the groundwork for growth into the Southeast U.S., including in South Carolina and Florida. The Wisconsin-based burger joint is also doubling down on its operational excellence, launching the “Culver’s Crew Challenge” in 2013 that will reward the top restaurants in quality, service, cleanliness, hospitality, community outreach, and team-member training and development.



    rank last year: 26

    Remember that time we said Quiznos was turning things around? That a new executive team and menu offerings would stanch all of the losses that had sent Quiznos plummeting down the QSR 50? You know, in these same pages a year ago? Yeah, about that … Turns out, Quiznos still has some work left to do. The company watched as system-wide sales fell another $100 million or so in 2012—good enough to send it six more spots down the 50—and unit counts dropped by 150. Meanwhile, the executive suite is once again full of new faces, having ushered in a new CEO, CMO, CFO, COO, and executive chef. The brand does have some good news to bank on as it considers possible growth strategies; a study from Restaurant DemandTracker found this year that Quiznos ranks high among quick-serve brands in terms of where customers believe they can get healthier options for kids. The brand’s international business is also in good shape. New Quiznos International president Ken Cutshaw is busy signing new franchise deals all over the world as global consumers clamor for American brands.


    Papa Murphy’s

    rank last year: 33

    The take-and-bake movement keeps on rolling, as Papa Murphy’s experienced 25 record sales weeks in 2012 en route to system-wide sales and unit count gains. Now the brand is flush with its third straight Zagat recognition for Americans’ favorite pizza; a new ad agency, WDCW, that helped created the “Love at 425 Degrees” promotional campaign; and the gourmet Primo pizza line that offers three pies with premium ingredients, including fennel sausage, goat cheese, and prosciutto.


    Long John Silver’s

    rank last year: 35

    The seafood leader may have turned its ship around at last. After drifting out of favor for the last few years and being marooned by former parent company Yum! Brands, Long John Silver’s finally posted systemwide sales gains in 2012 (despite its unit count dropping).