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


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Miami's American Harvest Cuts Food Costs with Seasonal Sourcing

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On this episode of Fast Casual Nation, we talk to the founders of a concept that has quickly established itself as a loved brand in Miami.

Consumers today are demanding much more from restaurants. They expect clean, locally sourced ingredients, quick service, and affordable prices. While many restaurants try to offer all of these things, few can successfully execute without sacrificing their margins.

American Harvest Co., a concept started by Grove Bay Hospitality Group in the Brickell City Center, seems to have found the right balance.

With a menu focused on clean eating, American Harvest serves up minimally processed foods. They use words like ‘GMO-free’, ‘grass-fed’, and ‘organic,’ to support their commitment to sustainable practices and sourcing local.

With decades of experience combined between the top three minds of the leadership team, the Grove Bay Group has perfected every aspect of American Harvest Co. and now they market it as their growth brand.

Watch the episode above for more expert insights into fast casual!

 
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“Angeleno” Food Cart Brings Traditional LA Tacos to Philly

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Los Angeles-native Vanessa Jerolmack has been making traditional Mexican tacos all her life, but it wasn't until she moved to Philadelphia that she thought to open up a shop dishing out the craveable bites. Now, on a lot on Baltimore Avenue, Taco Angeleno serves customers fully customizable tacos, burritos and quesadillas with an array of options, even catering to the vegan crowd.

“We make a homemade seitan here, and that's from my vegan days,” Jerolmack explains. “Like, I wanted something meaty tasting that I could eat with all the normal toppings that the other people with a meat taco were eating.”

Using a commercial kitchen ten blocks away, Taco Angeleno preps all its ingredients before bringing them to the food cart to be served. Customizable toppings like Salvadorian curtido, and staples like onions, cilantro, and lime take the tacos to the next level.

Being an outdoor restaurant, Taco Angeleno is only open from May through October to avoid the cold and rainy Philadelphia weather, but you can visit Taco Angeleno year-round by watching the episode above!

 
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Buena Onda's Scratch Kitchen Stands Out in Fast Casual

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Aside from earning the prestigious title of Iron Chef in 2009, Jose Garces has many other claims to fame such as his many restaurant brands in Philadelphia. Volvér, Distrito, and Amada are just a few of his successful concepts. But you don't have to pay an arm and a leg to get a taste of the chef's famed fish tacos.

The Garces Group’s only fast casual concept, Buena Onda, takes Garces’ culinary excellence and serves it up at affordable prices. Take, for example, their 5-dollar margaritas available on Taco Tuesdays! The Vice President of Culinary Operations for the Garces Group, Gregg Ciprioni, helped Foodable understand how Buena Onda is able to create top-level dishes keeping costs low.

“We featured mahi-mahi when we first opened here but there was an issue with overfishing in the past year and so it became prohibitively expensive,” Ciprioni explains. “You have to be really flexible with what you’re serving. You have to find what works right in this concept and we found that [Perch] is super consistent, it’s sustainable and delicious.”

Taking tips from its upscale big brothers, Buena Onda makes its flour tortillas from scratch daily. The tacos are topped with delicious garnishes like pickled purple cabbage, scallions and chipotle remoulade. With all this flavor, Greg also gave us some tips on retaining freshness for delivery. Watch the episode above to see how they’re doing it!

 
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The Urban Farmhouse: Bringing the Farm to the City

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Coming from a number of fast food chains, Kathleen Richardson knew a thing or two about the business, but she wanted to do something a little different. So she dove back into her hometown of Richmond, Virginia and opened a fast casual of her own, The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café. Founded in 2010, the mission behind The Urban Farmhouse is to bring the farm to the city and suburbs while providing customers with local, wholesome food. Though their menu is not outrageously unique, the way each menu item is made is what makes them stand out.

“For almost all of our salads, salad dressings, sandwich ingredients, we either prepare or cut here on the premises. That to me is a difference that I feel is important in defining fast casual.”

Redefining fast casual seems to be a theme here. Coming from McDonald's, Richardson knew a lot about limited time offers (LTO’s) but at The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café, LTO’s don’t exist. Instead, Urban Farmhouse changes their menus seven times a year, in accordance with the Virginia growing calendar.

In addition to using local farmers and producers as their purveyors, The Urban Farmhouse expands on its dedication to local by showcasing local artisanal products like beer, chocolates, and almonds. As Kathleen explains, they don’t do anything the easy way. “You’re working with this local for this one product, this local… Doing that for 20 different products versus being able to call up one distributor and getting all of that there. It’s time-consuming, it’s a lot of paperwork but it’s kind of who we are. We can’t be any different.”

Learn more about The Urban Farmhouse Market & Café on this episode of Fast Casual Nation.