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rank last year: 34
The double drive thru put Checkers/Rally’s on the map, but a lower-cost store prototype that launched in 2011 with only one drive thru and an expanded patio area delivered higher sales and traffic than expected. The prototype’s potential to grow in less traditional real estate has the company thinking expansion.
rank last year: 36
It’s business as usual at White Castle, where sales were slightly down and store counts slightly up in 2012. The company continues to use unique promotions like burger-scented candles and candlelight Valentine’s dinners to stay on the quirky side, though it did start thinking green earlier this year when it launched a program at select stores that tested composting all food and paper scraps.
rank last year: 37
Del Taco launched a two-part brand refresh in 2012 that entered its final phase earlier this year. Having upgraded much of the system’s branding and store design last year, the concept launched the new “UnFreshing Believable” campaign that highlighted the brand’s fresh-food offerings at value price points. It also debuted two new menus, Buck & Under and New Tastes, that further drive home the good-eats-for-less-cash message.
Qdoba Mexican Grill
rank last year: 42
The No. 2 player in the Mexican fast-casual category made sales and unit-count gains this year to inch four spots closer to industry giant Chipotle. While that brand sticks to a simple build-your-own format, Qdoba has been rolling out innovative prepared menu options thanks to head of R&D Ted Stoner. The last year saw Qdoba making strides in the health department, as the brand launched a more nutritious brown rice offering and also won the National Restaurant Association’s Kids Recipe Challenge for a multiunit chain with its Lil’ Pulled Pork Naked Burrito. Parent company Jack in the Box is banking on new Qdoba president Tim Casey—who has years of industry experience with brands like Starbucks and TCBY—to guide the chain into the next growth phase, although things got off to a rocky start this year, when it was announced that 67 company-owned stores would close by the end of the fiscal year.
rank last year: 39
Slow and steady wins the race. Or so thinks Jason’s Deli, a company that enjoys one of the highest average unit volumes in the industry and continued system-wide sales and unit count gains while growing only by a handful of units every year. Last year was no different, as the company grew its unit count by 10 stores and added about $40 million in sales.
rank last year: 41
Looking for Twitter retweets? Here’s a surefire way to score a few: Tweet about one of Krispy Kreme’s plentiful promotions and limited-time offers, like its Key Lime doughnuts or Talk Like a Pirate giveaway. Social media fans obsessively follow Krispy Kreme’s promotions (trust us), which is good news for the company as it continues its climb back from near-bankruptcy and oblivion. In fact, Krispy Kreme just hit its highest stock price in eight years thanks to its ongoing momentum.
El Pollo Loco
rank last year: 38
It’s been a slow burn for El Pollo Loco the last few years as the company faces a steady crop of chicken competitors, including Chick-fil-A, which is quietly building its presence on El Pollo Loco’s California home turf. But it’s certainly not for lack of menu innovation; the last year has included new Pork Carnitas, Baja Shrimp, Fish Taco, and Chicken Tamale LTOs, as well as Grilled Chicken Burritos.
rank last year: 40
Though its year-over-year results might not show huge gains, Boston Market is in the midst of a sustained growth that began in 2010, when it launched an operational overhaul. As of April, the company had posted 30 consecutive months of positive comp sales and was preparing to open its first new restaurants in six years. A St. Louis Ribs LTO this year gave the brand a unique menu offering, while a pledge to remove salt shakers from tables last year proved its commitment to better nutrition.