THE FUTURE 50

Over the dozen years that Restaurant Business has presented the Future 50, simple, easy-to-understand food—pizza, tacos—has dominated the list of fastest-growing small concepts. This year, new cuisines are rising to the top, signaling increasing acceptance of different ingredients, flavors and formats.

THE HALAL GUYS

1 OF 50

The Halal Guys started as a lone New York City food cart. After quickly changing the menu to a simple selection of hearty Middle Eastern food, the brand has taken off, adding more than 30 units in the last year and posting sales growth of a whopping 740%. The brand keeps things simple, serving up large portions of meat, rice, falafel, hummus and a craveable “white sauce” that fit halal dietary standards.

Location Astoria, NY

2016 System wide Sales $25,200,000*

% Change in Sales 740.0%

2016 U.S. Units 35

% Change in Units 775.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,215,000*

% Change in AUV-1.2%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

BUBBA'S 33

2 OF 50

The only sports bar to crack the top 25, this concept trades on down-home Southern hospitality with an emphasis on housemade items such as burger buns, pizza dough and a special burger blend with 33% ground bacon. Run by Texas Roadhouse Inc., the chain plays up its something-for-everyone philosophy with distinct seating areas (tables, at the bar and outside), all with TV views. It also offers online ordering.

Location Fishers, Ind.

2016 System wide Sales $43,700,000

% Change in Sales 133.7%

2016 U.S. Units 16

% Change in Units 128.6%

2016 Average Unit Volume $3,800,000*

% Change in AUV 1.9%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

CAVA GRILL

3 OF 50

Mediterranean fast casual is the segment to watch, with four such chains on the list. This Maryland-based concept recently secured $30 million in funding to expand to NYC and Boston. Cava is known for its better-for-you, build-your-own-bowl vibe. And it uses tech to improve the guest experience: For example, motion sensors in the ordering line showed traffic jams near the menu board, which led to a redesign.

Location Rockville, Md.

2016 System wide Sales $26,800,000*

% Change in Sales 76.3%

2016 U.S. Units 25

% Change in Units 92.3%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,410,000*

% Change in AUV 2.2%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

HOPCAT

4 OF 50

One of three full-service chains in the top 10, HopCat proclaims a singular mission: “To bring you great beer.” Rated a top beer bar by several media outlets, this concept also bills itself as the “anti-chain chain,” while trying to make each unit look like an independent restaurant. Extensive beer menus reflect that local focus. Its craveable Crack Fries are popular, one of many housemade comfort food items.

LocationGrand Rapids, Mich.

2016 System wide Sales $30,200,000*

% Change in Sales 57.3%

2016 U.S. Units13

% Change in Units 85.7%

2016 Average Unit Volume $3,020,000*

% Change in AUV 2.0%

Future 50 Year 2017

LUNA GRILL

5 OF 50

Like Cava Grill, this Mediterranean fast casual is seeing rapid expansion, opening 15 stores from 2015 to 2016. San Diego-based Luna Grill entered Los Angeles in 2016, opening several units in shopping malls. The health-focused brand’s lengthy menu spotlights natural meats and housemade marinades and dressings. Its new Never, Ever Gyro is a hormone-, antibiotic- and MSG-free beef-and-lamb blend. Location Carlsbad, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $36,900,000*

% Change in Sales 58.4%

2016 U.S. Units 35

% Change in Units 75.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,340,000*

% Change in AUV0.8%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising No

IKE'S PLACE

6 OF 50

The only sandwich chain to make the list, Ike’s Place peddles pop culture-themed handhelds such as the Bad Santa, Desperate Housewives and Tony Soprano creations. Some feature halal meats, as well as house made alternative meats and cheeses like vegan turkey and soy cheese. Founded in San Francisco in 2007, the chain first expanded outside the city three years later and to Arizona in 2014.

2016 System wide Sales $32,400,000*

% Change in Sales 42.7%

2016 U.S. Units 34

% Change in Units 70.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,200,000*

% Change in AUV0 .4%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

JINYA RAMEN BAR

7 OF 50

Started in 2000 in Tokyo by Tomonori Takahashi, Jinya crossed over to California a decade later. It now has units in five states, serving housemade ramen noodles and rice bowls. It opened its first East Coast unit last year, with further expansion planned. The menu is expanding as well, with the addition of pork-stuffed steam buns and on-trend poke bowls.

Location Burbank, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $39,400,000*

% Change in Sales 42.8%

2016 U.S. Units 20

% Change in Units 66.7%

2016 Average Unit Volume $2,460,000*

% Change in AUV 2.5%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

VITALITY BOWLS

8 OF 50

This self-dubbed “superfood cafe” grew out of founder Tara Gilad’s desire to provide food for her daughter, who has severe allergies. The menu is heavy on acai bowls, smoothies, juices, panini and salads. Vitality Bowls began franchising in 2014 and racked up 13 new units the following year. It offers online ordering, catering and a loyalty app.

Location San Ramon, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $32,400,000*

% Change in Sales 58.1%

2016 U.S. Units 33

% Change in Units 65.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,220,000*

% Change in AUV 4.3%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

KUNG FU TEA

9 OF 50

The bubble tea seller was one of the first to bring the Asian tapioca pearl beverage to the U.S. Founded in New York City in 2009, it expanded to Florida and Las Vegas in 2014. The beverage menu features nearly 40 options, including specialty coffees, teas and slushies. The chain capitalizes on social media marketing with Instagrammable drinks such as a “panda” tea with black and white bubbles.

2016 System wide Sales $35,200,000*

% Change in Sales 51.1%

2016 U.S. Units 90

% Change in Units 63.6%

2016 Average Unit Volume $485,000*

% Change in AUV 1.0%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

CALIFORNIA FISH GRILL

10 OF 50

Opening in 1998, this fast casual emerged early in the segment’s rise. That experience, plus its focus on seafood and adult beverages, has helped the value-minded concept thrive and grow. All units are company-owned, and its founder remains on the board of directors. The chain promotes “healthy indulgence” with a range of fried and grilled options.

Location Irvine, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales$34,000,000

% Change in Sales 25.9%

2016 U.S. Units17

% Change in Units 54.6%

2016 Average Unit Volume $2,430,000*

% Change in AUV-1.0%

Future 50 Year 2017

SNOOZE, AN A.M. EATERY

11 OF 50

This breakfast and brunch concept with an extensive morning-cocktail menu reports both strong same-store sales (up 45.5% from 2015-2016) and unit growth. It has an eco-friendly focus, touting its composting and recycling efforts, cage-free eggs and local sourcing. Last year, Snooze secured funding from Stripes Group, and three of the group’s partners (including former Shake Shack CEO David Swinghammer) now sit on Snooze’s board.

2016 System wide Sales $27,500,000*

% Change in Sales 45.5%

2016 U.S. Units 20

% Change in Units 53.9%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,665,000*

% Change in AUV 1.5%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

&PIZZA

12 OF 50

As the leading fast-casual pizza concept on the list, &Pizza received a $25 million cash infusion late last year. The funding, from investment firm Avalt, will help the chain expand to New York City, as well as upping its footprint in existing markets. The chain capitalizes on the build-your-own trend with customizable pizzas that are cooked in 600 degree ovens for 90 seconds. Last fall, &Pizza opened its first unit with a bar. The &Bar concept features beer, wine and three cocktails.

Location Washington, D.C.

2016 System wide Sales $26,100,000*

% Change in Sales 69.5%

2016 U.S. Units 20

% Change in Units 53.9%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,580,000*

% Change in AUV 2.6%

Future 50 Year 2017

PIADA ITALIAN STREET FOOD

13 OF 50

Piada bucks the Italian fast-casual trend of build-your-own pizza with a seasonal menu of salad bowls, soups and signature piada wrap sandwiches. The chain strengthens its community connection by partnering with local charities and other groups. Last year, Piada, which was started by the co-founder of the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, expanded into Texas, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.

Location Columbus, Ohio

2016 System wide Sales $33,400,000*

% Change in Sales 49.8%

2016 U.S. Units 38

% Change in Units 52.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,060,000*

% Change in AUV 2.4%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

PIES & PINTS

14 OF 50

Gourmet pizzas and craft beer take center stage at this full-service chain. Each unit features a white elephant mural, just the like original one that was found while building out the first restaurant. The chain serves local beers at each location, and regularly hosts new-beer release parties and Craft Beer Week celebrations.

Location Lexington, Ky.

2016 System wide Sales $30,300,000*

% Change in Sales 46.4%

2016 U.S. Units 12

% Change in Units 50.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $3,030,000*

% Change in AUV 2.7%

Future 50 Year 2017

BURGER LOUNGE

15 OF 50

The only burger concept among the top 20 on this list, this fast casual declares “We do a common thing uncommonly well.” Burger Lounge emphasizes American grass-fed beef, as well as free-range turkey and an organic quinoa patty to appeal to vegetarians. It serves lunch, dinner and alcohol beverages, and has received funding from investor KarpReilly to fuel its expansion.

Location La Jolla, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $28,800,000*

% Change in Sales 33.3%

2016 U.S. Units 21

% Change in Units 50.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,645,000*

% Change in AUV 2.8%

 

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

PRESSED JUICERY

16 OF 50

Adding 29 new units between 2015 and 2016, Pressed Juicery courts health-minded consumers with cold-pressed, no-added-sugar juice blends. The concept also offers juice-cleanse subscriptions that are customizable and deliverable. It recently made headlines for partnering with high-end candy maker Sugarfina to develop a line of green-juice gummy candies sold in its signature bottles on Sugarfina’s website.

Location Santa Monica, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $37,700,000*

% Change in Sales 46.1%

2016 U.S. Units 87

% Change in Units 50.0%

2016 Average Unit Volume $520,000*

% Change in AUV 1.0%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

KEKE'S BREAKFAST CAFE

17 OF 50

The extensive menu at this midscale breakfast and lunch concept riffs on morning staples with items such as Pina Colada stuffed French toast and Buffalo chicken omelets. Says its website: “It’s like your hometown diner grew up and went to the city.” Eight more units are in development in Florida, its sole market.

Location Orlando, Fla.

2016 System wide Sales $32,800,000*

% Change in Sales 49.8%

2016 U.S. Units 25

% Change in Units 47.1%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,560,000*

% Change in AUV 3.3%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

85C BAKERY CAFE

18 OF 50

Customers have waited in hourlong lines at the concept’s recently opened Seattle-area unit to scoop up its Asian pastries, such as the Marble Taro Bun and milky brioche. Founded in Taiwan, 85C is named for its optimal coffee-brewing temperature—though it is known for its iced sea salt coffee. 85C has more than 900 units globally and continues to expand in the States.

Location Brea, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $29,200,000*

% Change in Sales 40.4%

2016 U.S. Units 25

% Change in Units 47.1%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,390,000*

% Change in AUV 3.7%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

GUS'S WORLD FAMOUS FRIED CHICKEN

19 OF 50

This hot-and-spicy full-service chain serves chicken, sides and plates. Gus’s recently announced plans to triple its units, with expansion to D.C. and Burbank, Calif., and is eyeing an overseas rollout as well. Most units are franchised, but the original Gus’s in Memphis is still run by family of the founder.

Location Memphis, Tenn.

2016 System wide Sales $33,900,000*

% Change in Sales 44.9%

2016 U.S. Units 19

% Change in Units 46.2%

2016 Average Unit Volume $2,120,000*

% Change in AUV 4.2%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

YOUR PIE

20 OF 50

An originator of the fast-casual pizza segment, Your Pie opened in 2008. The chain sets itself apart with unusual creations such as its peach and prosciutto pie. A recently launched catering program includes pizza, panini and salads as well as box-lunch options. The chain has spent 2017 expanding out of the Southeast into new states such as Wisconsin and Louisiana.

Location Athens, Ga.

2016 System wide Sales $30,800,000*

% Change in Sales 38.7%

2016 U.S. Units 35

% Change in Units 45.8%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,045,000*

% Change in AUV 3.5%

Future 50 Year 2017

TRUE FOOD KITCHEN

21 OF 50

This heath-focused concept from Fox Restaurant Group appointed former P.F. Chang’s exec Larry Rybeck as president in 2015. It’s expanded since then, entering the Midwest with a Chicago location. A new menu, rolled out in 2016, offers veggie bowls, a grass-fed beef burger and a variety of seasonal veggie dishes.

2016 System wide Sales $39,700,000*

% Change in Sales 28.1%

2016 U.S. Units 16

% Change in Units 45.5%

2016 Average Unit Volume $2,940,000*

% Change in AUV-0.3%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

B.GOOD

22 OF 50

Last year, the fast-casual burger chain bought its own farm to supply fresh produce to its stores. It also revamped its mobile app to include features that reflect the chain’s commitment to telling the stories behind its food and giving back to the community. One such feature includes letting consumers donate food to local schools. Going forward, B.good plans to continue growing in the Northeast.

2016 System wide Sales $36,000,000*

% Change in Sales 55.2%

2016 U.S. Units 40

% Change in Units 42.9%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,060,000*

% Change in AUV 2.9%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

HOPDODDY BURGER BAR

23 OF 50

Unconventional burgers and beers rule at this fast casual from the industry vets behind the Eddie V’s seafood chain. Along with all-natural, ground-in-house burgers, its full bars feature more than a dozen small-batch craft beers and rotating cocktails. Guests are seated after placing their order at a counter and can leave real-time feedback via tablets.

Location Austin, Texas

2016 System wide Sales $36,300,000*

% Change in Sales 55.8%

2016 U.S. Units 17

% Change in Units 41.7%

2016 Average Unit Volume$2,500,000*

% Change in AUV 2.0%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

ANDY'S FROZEN CUSTARD

24 OF 50

Using custard made in-store daily, Andy’s churns out shakes, concretes, malts and sundaes from walk-up stores. Rotating specials push in-season fruits and seasonal add-ins, like egg nog or pumpkin pie. Andy’s nearly doubled its units in one year and plans growth in Kansas, Colorado, Arizona and more.

Location Springfield, Mo.

2016 System wide Sales $42,400,000*

% Change in Sales 36.8%

2016 U.S. Units 40

% Change in Units 37.9%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,230,000*

% Change in AUV 3.4%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

KULA REVOLVING SUSHI BAR

25 OF 50

Tech-focused conveyor belt sushi chain, Kula Revolving Sushi Bar, uses prizes as an incentive to get diners to order more food. A customer who eats 15 plates receives a small toy such as a keychain or stickers via a machine. The mostly California-based chain debuted its first Austin, Texas, location earlier this year.

Location Irvine, Calif.

2016 System wide Sales $25,300,000*

% Change in Sales 33.9%

2016 U.S. Units 11

% Change in Units 37.5%

2016 Average Unit Volume $2,580,000*

% Change in AUV 2.4%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

COWBOY CHICKEN

26 OF 50

This Texas-based chain rustles up rotisserie chicken over an open fire as well as Tex-Mex fare. In the past year, it launched an order-ahead app where customers pay in-store. Revamped units have a “cowboy cool” rustic design with wood and rope details, and put the rotisserie front and center. After pairing with franchise partner FRC Group, it’s set to open 14 units in Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota this year.

2016 System wide Sales $29,500,000*

% Change in Sales 39.8%

2016 U.S. Units 22

% Change in Units 37.5%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,550,000*

% Change in AUV 2.6%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising yes

SAUCE PIZZA & WINE

27 OF 50

Restaurateur Sam Fox sold Sauce—the concept he created and nurtured for more than a decade—in 2015. His hope: that buyer Scott Kilpatrick, who founded RA Sushi, would grow it even bigger. Since then, it’s gone from nine to 15 units, with plans to spread in New Mexico and Arizona. Beyond pizza, the fast casual sells pasta, panini, salads and desserts, plus beer and more than a dozen wines.

2016 System wide Sales $25,500,000*

% Change in Sales 26.9%

2016 U.S. Units 15

% Change in Units 36.4%

2016 Average Unit Volume$1,960,000*

% Change in AUV 2.6%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

FRESH BROTHERS

28 OF 50

Last fall, the chain landed funding from private-equity firm Nolan Capital to help it expand from 15 to 50 units in the next five years with the potential of breaking out beyond its California base (including an outpost in LAX airport). The family-focused pizzeria offers a range of make-your-own-pizza party packages for kids. Its menu also heavily promotes gluten-free options.

2016 System wide Sales $26,200,000*

% Change in Sales 29.1%

2016 U.S. Units 19

% Change in Units 35.7%

2016 Average Unit Volume $1,585,000*

% Change in AUV 1.6%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

PUBLIC SCHOOL

29 OF 50

The school-themed gastropub offers craft beers and trendy American comfort food such as quinoa-stuffed peppers and poke. It lures patrons with brunch, weekly trivia and twice-daily “recess” (happy hour). Playing to locals, each unit’s area code is used in its name (PS303 is in Denver), and each runs its own social media, including promoting its entries to a monthly chainwide Burger Smackdown.

2016 System wide Sales $25,500,000*

% Change in Sales 57.4%

2016 U.S. Units8

% Change in Units 33.3%

2016 Average Unit Volume $3,645,000*

% Change in AUV 1.3%

Future 50 Year 2017

Franchising no

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