Fast Casual Nation offers exclusive interviews with experts ranging from top chefs and brand makers to executives and restaurateurs who work in one of the fastest-growing segments of the restaurant industry. The show is available to view in full on Foodable On-Demand.
Now in its fourth season, Fast Casual Nation endeavors to examine “The Next Generation of Food” via the latest industry trends and emerging restaurant concepts. During this season, Paul Barron got the chance to interview some of the masterminds behind restaurants Matt & Marie's, Dog Haus, and Smashburger.
If you think the classic Italian sandwich has overstayed its welcome, think again. Based in Philadelphia, Matt & Marie’s menu is equal parts sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory. Self-declared “Philly’s favorite hoagie,” Matt & Marie’s values consistency, integrity, and fresh and flavorful ingredients. The chain is passionate about making Italian charcuterie accessible and palatable to everyone.
First meeting in college at Wharton, co-founders Marie Capp and Justin Matt Saplosky created and managed a catering business together while still in school. They established the first brick-and-mortar Matt & Marie’s location a few weeks after graduation. Barron met and interviewed Capp at that flagship location in Philly’s historic Logan Square.
“Hospitality is definitely a business,” says Capp. “And it’s got more of a heartbeat than any industry I’ve ever been exposed to. You’re dealing with so many people face-to-face every single day, getting to know their names and stories, and seeing their lives unfold over the years.”
For Capp, the inspiration behind Matt & Marie’s was simple: “This is a charcuterie board in a sandwich for lunch. It’s something you would normally get at a nice Italian restaurant at night.” She adds, laughing, “I say it’s lunch time.”
Check out the episode to learn more about Capp’s background and the ingredients that go into every Matt & Marie’s sandwich.
Hot dogs are traditionally seen as more of an indulgence than a meal. Dog Haus takes a slightly different approach: while still keeping the style and flavor of a traditional hot dog, all of the chain’s hot dogs are crafted by hand and free of antibiotics and hormones. Sausages, burgers, and chicken sandwiches are also on the menu.
The chain was founded in California in 2010 by business partners and friends Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz, and André Vener. The three wanted to create something that was a hybrid of the formal restaurant and fast casual formats: “craft casual.” Today, Dog Haus now boasts a $500 million franchise agreement and is projected to experience exponential growth for years to come.
Barron sat down with Adam Gertler, American chef and television personality—and the official "Würstmacher" for Dog Haus. Gertler directs the production and inspiration behind the chain’s latest sausage creations.
“The concept was to do a hot dog place, but for a grown-up palate,” says Gertler. “It’s super comfort food with a lot of flavor.”
All Dog Haus locations have beer and wine, and select units are also designed as a beer garden with a strong focus on craft beer. Every drink is carefully chosen and, like the unit itself, designed to reflect the location’s surroundings and community at large.
“As we develop more stores, we get a better idea of what we are and what we want to look like,” notes Gertler. “Each store also has a unique feel to where it is. We don’t want to be complete cookie cutter.”
To hear more about the chain’s menu design and signature offerings, make sure to check out the episode!
Burger joints are a dime a dozen in today’s market, but Smashburger has carved a unique place in the industry for itself by keeping the focus on menu development. The chain prioritizes dishes that utilize high quality, consistent, and efficient ingredients.
Barron chatted with Tom Ryan, the chief concept officer for Smashburger. A fast casual pioneer, Ryan co-founded the enterprise in Denver in 2007. Smashburger now maintains over 350 locations worldwide.
According to Ryan, the goal has always been to secure excellent distributors that allow workers to concentrate on doing what they do best: making the perfect smashed burger and offering excellent customer service.
“We seek out high quality vendors to give us best-in-class ingredients that are consistent every time,” says Ryan. “You have to manage quality, safety, and integrity inside the four walls.”
Smashburger does not choose its distributors lightly. The people the chain works with offer more than just ingredients. “Our distributors have a great sense where the velocity is in the marketplace, so we do a local burger in every market,” adds Ryan. “It forces us to have to peruse menus on a local basis, and forces us to have a lot of dialogue with a lot of local operators.”
Watch the episode to learn more about the chain’s favorite ingredients, menu innovations, and current system processes for maintaining exceptional food safety standards and supply chain integrity.