Check Out Season Four of Fast Casual Nation That Highlights Consistent, Quality Food

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.

Produced by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


VIEW BIO

Foodable Labs Highlights Top 8 Chicken Concepts

Chicken concepts are a proven safe bet for fast food and fast casual chains. And while the plant-based market is certainly booming, chicken remains one of the most efficient sources of protein in terms of its carbon footprint.

Source: Shutterstock

Source: Shutterstock

A recent Foodable Labs report showcases the top ten chicken concepts currently on the market based on CSR (Consumer Sentiment Rating). And which companies are in the top five?

1. Chick-fil-A

According to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, Chick-fil-A is the most beloved restaurant in the U.S. by a landslide. The company is also only behind McDonald’s and Starbucks in terms of total sales per fiscal year: its latest year totaled $10.5 billion in sales.

Founded in 1946, the fast food restaurant is best known for its chicken sandwiches and chicken nuggets. The company’s latest sandwich offering is the Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich. While Chick-fil-A does not offer much in the way of plant-based or health-conscious options, the chain was the first fast food restaurant to eliminate trans fats from its food and to commit to only using chicken raised without antibiotics.

Despite its positive consumer satisfaction rating, the chain has dealt with some controversy since 2012 due to its Christian origins and continued donations to perceived anti-LGBT groups. Chick-fil-A will likely need to better address this issue as the company moves forward.

2. PDQ

PDQ stands for People Dedicated to Quality. According to a 2016 report, the company’s workers topples Chick-fil-A employees when it comes to being the most likely to have a “pleasant demeanor.” The up-and-coming fast food restaurant is committed to providing fresh food, infusing each dish with a personal touch, and cultivating teams filled with happy workers who want to be there.

The chain was established in 2009 by Bob Basham, one of the co-founders of Outback Steakhouse, and Nick Reader, the CFO of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The menu is composed of chicken tenders, chicken nuggets, salads, sandwiches, bowls, and a number of unique sauces. All food is “just made”: every meal is created in-house with hormone- and steroid-free chicken that has never been frozen.

PDQ does have to grapple with some growing pains. The majority of its 65 locations are in Florida, and the fast food restaurant was recently forced to close three of its Oklahoma locations. Still, PDQ is opening its first New York branch in July, and a new restaurant is in construction in Evesham, New Jersey.

3. Slim Chickens

Known for its wings and hand-breaded, all-natural chicken tenders, Slim Chickens prioritizes fresh, flavorful ingredients. Chicken is also always cooked to order using soybean oil. One of the chain’s latest offerings is Devil’s Smoke Shaken Wings, which utilizes a new sauce with a barbecue base and honey and habanero flavoring.

Slim Chickens has an interesting history. First established in 2003 in a now-defunct Arkansas sushi restaurant, the fast casual restaurant chain swiftly expanded to multiple locations in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The chain has since gone international, establishing successful branches in Salmiya, Kuwait as well as London and Cardiff.

Looking ahead? The chain seems intent on continuing to build its brand throughout the UK and the American south. The company currently has 69 locations throughout the U.S. and abroad, and just opened another location in Birmingham, England shopping centre Grand Central. Another Mississippi location is also in the works and set to open this July.

4. Flyrite Chicken

Flyrite Chicken might just be the fast casual chicken-focused dining chain that modern consumers are looking for. While hoping to compete with the likes of Chick-fil-A, the Flyrite menu also caters to the growing plant-based market with chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers, wraps, and salads.

Entrepreneur Kevin Warden founded the chain in 2016, hoping to appeal to meat-lovers and vegetarians and vegans. All chicken is raised without antibiotics, and no artificial ingredients are used by the restaurant. Customers who dine in can also enjoy a beer or wine by the glass with their meal.

The chain currently maintains three Texas locations, its latest restaurant opening this year at Austin Airport.

5. Raising Cane's

Raising Cane’s is all about chicken fingers. The menu keeps it simple with four combos to choose from: The Box Combo, The 3 Finger Combo, The Caniac Combo, and The Sandwich Combo. Chicken is never frozen and always cooked fresh with canola oil.

Raising Cane’s has been in business since 1996, but the franchise truly took off in the late 2000s. In 2008, the company had about 50 locations throughout Louisiana: today, the company maintains over 400 restaurants in 26 states. Like Slim Chickens, Raising Cane’s has also expanded internationally to Kuwait, as well as in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Lebanon.

Raising Cane’s will open its second and third Tucson, Arizona restaurants in July and October of this year. Todd Graves, the founder of Raising Cane’s, was also named one of the top CEOs to work for by Glassdoor.

According to a recent Foodable Labs study, fast casual is set to garner 100 billion in sales by 2025. The Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report found that consumers in the 25-34 demographic are driving this change with a growing preference nationwide for eating food away from home.

Top 8 Chicken Concepts

This post is brought to you by Tyson Foods. To learn more, visit The Modern Chef Network.

Building a Menu That Differentiates Between Takeout, Catering, and Delivery

On this episode of The Takeout, Delivery, and Catering Show, podcast hosts Valerie Killifer and Erle Dardick chat with Tad Low to discuss the importance of menu differentiation within off-premise.

Tad Low is the Director of Off-Premise for Moe's Southwest Grill, an Atlanta based fast-casual restaurant chain with over 725 domestic and international locations. Low is leading a team that is working to bring delivery to the forefront of the guest experience.

When it comes to maximizing opportunity with off-premise, Low credits Erle at helping him understand the importance of recognizing the different revenue channels that exist within off-premise.

“We really have four main channels of revenue here. We have our in-store business, we have our catering business, we have our online business and we have now our third-party business. And understanding that each part of the business while representing a different percentage of our overall sales they each have a different impact to our bottom line,” says Tad Low. “And understanding that in order to maximize each of those channels we probably need to have a menu that is geared towards each of those segments.”

Learn how each menu for Moe’s Southwest Grill’s different revenue channels differ from each other along with more tips for off-premise success by listening to the podcast episode above!

Vanessa Rodriguez

Vanessa Rodriguez

Writer & Producer


VIEW BIO

Panera Bread Rolls Out Climate-Friendly Dinner Options

Lunch hotspot Panera Bread is adding dinner to the menu this summer. The sandwich chain is currently testing a menu featuring hearty meals available from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida, and intends to test the “dinner-centric” menu in nine additional locations in Lexington, Kentucky beginning next month.

In a news release, Panera Bread also noted the company’s goal to continue to provide customers with healthy options for themselves and their children — including for dinner. “Panera’s craveable new dinner options are helping to meet guests demand to eliminate the trade-off between good for you and ease. Like all Panera menu items, all offerings are 100 percent clean with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.”

The meals are still designed to be quick. Sara Burnett, the vice president of wellness and food policy for Panera, emphasized that the company is endeavoring to balance the ideals of fast and healthy for busy individuals and families. “People are often challenged by the dichotomy between convenience and quality,” she says. And the chain does not want its customers to “have to trade one for the other, especially dinner on the go.”

By sales, Panera is the tenth-largest chain in the United States. And dinnertime purchases provide, on average, about a quarter to a third of the company’s sales. According to Panera’s chief growth and strategy officer Dan Wegiel, customer feedback suggests that the light soups, salads, and sandwiches currently provided by Panera Bread make for a healthy, but unsatisfying dinner.

The new dinner options include more sizable and satisfying meals, including flatbread pizzas, bowls, and meatier sandwiches that still utilize popular Panera flavors. New vegetable sides have also been added.

One noteworthy addition is the Chipotle Chicken & Bacon Artisan Flatbread, featuring smoked pulled chicken, chopped bacon, garlic cream sauce, fresh mozzarella and fontina, red grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and the chain’s classic chipotle aioli.

With food production contributing up to a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions, chicken is becoming an increasingly preferred protein option for restaurants and customers alike. When compared with plant-based foods, animal-based food production necessitates a much larger carbon footprint.

Beef production uses, on average, about 20 times the land that plants necessitate, and results in at least 20 times as many carbon emissions as the average plant. And cows, goats, and sheep alike emit the highly potent greenhouse gas, methane.

For concerned meat lovers, there is a more carbon-friendly option than beef. According to a study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey examining the average daily eating habits of over 16,000 participants, chicken is a drastically better option than beef when it comes to carbon.

Of any type of meat, beef has the heaviest footprint, regardless of how it is cut. Chicken, in contrast, has one of the lightest footprints of animal proteins. Chickens are a surprisingly efficient source of protein, requiring far less fertilizer and land acreage.

Diego Rose, the lead author on the study and a researcher at Tulane University, stresses that every person needs to be proactive in combating climate change. “Climate change is such a dramatic problem,” he says. According to Rose, the only way to curb destructive increases in global warming is to curb the global beef, goat, and lamb consumption. “All sectors of society need to be involved.”

In another study using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index, Rose found that people who maintained a healthy diet typically have low carbon footprints. Plant-based diets consistently correlate with improved personal health and positive environmental effects.

Panera Bread does offer a plant-based menu for climate-conscious consumers. The menu includes sandwiches, bowls, soups, and a number of fresh smoothies. According to Noel White, the current president and CEO of Tyson Foods, plant-based and alternative protein menu items have been “experiencing double-digit growth.” Tyson Foods just added a plant-based brand to its product line.

Panera’s Wegiel maintains that the chain is looking toward the future. “We stepped back about a year ago ... to say, ‘Over the next five years, where are we going to grow? Where are we going to get most of our value creation?’”

In regards to growth, Panera Bread has already added to its menu options this year: the chain successfully expanded its breakfast menu with new egg wraps, bakery items, and a remodeled coffee program. Restaurants and fast food chains like Taco Bell have instituted similar menu updates to boost sales.

At present, the majority of Panera’s delivery orders occur around lunchtime. And the chain has rebuffed any suggested partnerships with third-party delivery services: Panera Bread handles all delivery needs itself. With new dinner options, the company may need to rethink its delivery strategy in order to accommodate an increase in evening orders.

This post is brought to you by Tyson Foods. To learn more, visit The Modern Chef Network.

Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report Released

Our release of the Top 100 Fast Casual Innovators Report breaks down the top fast casual restaurant performers in the segment as analyzed by our Foodable Labs data index. I got a chance to look back on the fast casual pioneers who edged their way into the fast casual restaurant industry in the mid-90’s and changed it forever to become the 21st-century behemoth of fast casual that we know it to be today.

The Innovators Who Envisioned Our Dining Future

Over 20 years ago I had the opportunity to meet and work with these pioneers early on in my career and see the hidden gems of restaurant brands and fast casual trends that they were forging. Today we see an entirely new crop of Top 100 fast casual operators that are being led by a new group of young execs that are destined to create a new benchmark for the top fast casual restaurant brands and their future. Brands like Sweetgreen, Mod Pizza, Tender Greens, Shake Shack are just a few of the innovators leading the way.

When I look back at the 25 years of analysis of fast casual trends and fast casual concepts, the one area that continues to rise to the top is the adoption of technology that these fast casual brands continue to drive home. Changes in technology continue to cause major shifts in the space with recent origin party delivery strategies with Modern Market that could start an entirely new approach to how delivery will be managed by fast casual restaurants in the future. These kinds of strategies could spell doom for the likes of Grub Hub and Uber Eats should the top fast casual restaurant brands create a new roadmap for on demand delivery.

Fast Casual Set to hit 100 Billion by 2025

Our Foodable Labs study finds a growth track that could exceed 100 billion in sales by 2025 for fast casual and potentially as many as 1,500 concepts in the U.S. alone. This growth is attributed to a massive adoption of food away from home and the on demand market by the emerging market of consumers in the 25-34 demographic.

Additionally the explosion of fast casual and emerging restaurant brands is due to the low cost of entry, digital marketing opportunities and now even ghost and virtual kitchens will lead a pioneering era for fast casual growth in the next decade. Technology adoption by consumers will assist in this massive shift and the continued desire by consumers to eat cleaner and more consciously.

Make sure to download the Top 100 Fast Casual Restaurant Innovators Report to get all the insights to the future of the fast casual restaurant business. See more reports and market insights on The Modern Chef Network brought to you by Tyson Foods.