15 Restaurant Brands to Watch in 2019

When looking back on 2018, it was apparent that there were a clear group of concepts that were starting to separate from the pack in the restaurant industry. Restaurant closures topped at 50K closed locations in 2018– so the market seemed to have some correction.

While we did see some closings of lower performers in casual dining with Applebee’s alone closing over 250 locations in the past two years, the good news was the emerging brand's sector saw significant growth. This sector showed better performance in 2018 than any other brand groups.

These emerging brands consist of about 250 total brands that have multiple locations and are starting to take control of categories. Make sure to check out our 2018 Emerging Brands Report and to be on the lookout for our 2019 list.


All that said, my 15 brands to watch for 2019 are led by a group of leaders that I think have some unique and interesting aspects that put them in the limelight.

For example, Sweetgreen is setting a new standard of what it means to be a restaurant. The restaurant has morphed into a lifestyle brand or platform that will prove to be a new strategy for several brands that have the following.

lemonade restaurant logo

Lemonade is one of these as well and what separates the brand from the pack is its quality and the brand connection that is prevailing in a big way with guests. If they continue on a growth strategy this could be a player in the healthy halo sector very quickly.

Mod Pizza logo

Mod Pizza is another in this group that has clearly won the fast-casual pizza wars, now with over 400 locations and a management team that is geared toward people and culture this brand could be one to bet on.

Cava restaurant logo

My special mention would be Cava, while not on my 15 brands to watch, their acquisition of the Mediterranean fast-casual chain Zoe’s Kitchen creates both opportunities and challenges that I think are worth mentioning. They also have a rockstar group of investors that are a good reason to keep an eye on them.

Don't miss the episode of The Barron Report above where I break down why these brands have that X-factor.

Cava is Following Into Panera's Footsteps In Regards To Loyalty Programs

Cava is Following Into Panera's Footsteps In Regards To Loyalty Programs

Cava Mezze Grill is planning to use data to form a more intimate dialogue with its customers and build a personalized brand loyalty program, according to “Fast Company.”

The Washington D.C.-based fast casual brand is known for using data to enhance their restaurant design and improving kitchen operations and reducing food-ordering lines, for example. So, it’s no surprise the Mediterranean-style food brand now wants to take it up a notch to better learn about their guests in order to cater to their specific wants and needs.

Cava Grill will be doing this by tracking patrons orders and offering promotional coupons for menu items each guest favorites.

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Quick Six With… Dimitri Moshovitis, Chef & Co-Founder at Cava Mezze Restaurant Group

Quick Six With… Dimitri Moshovitis, Chef & Co-Founder at Cava Mezze Restaurant Group

It’s been a hell of a year for Dimitri Moshovitis and his brand, Cava. Making up one-third of the Cava Mezze Restaurant Group co-founder trio, alongside Ted Xenohristos and Ike Grigoropoulos, Dimitri is the man behind the food at Cava Mezze and its fast-casual spinoff, Cava Grill. The name of the game, if it wasn’t already obvious, is Mediterranean — putting an American twist to Greek dishes in an affordable, healthy way using fresh ingredients. Dimitri and the guys are also behind Brusco, a sandwich counter attached to the Cava Mezze location in Baltimore, and Sugo Cicchetti, a small-plates, Italian concept, where he is also chef.

Earlier this year, Cava Grill raised $16M in funding. And most recently, another $45M investment was received in a Series B. The funds will go toward the already-begun expansion of the brand to the west coast, starting in LA.

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Cava Grill's $16M Expansion — Challenges, Scaling, and What to Expect in L.A.

Cava Grill's $16M Expansion — Challenges, Scaling, and What to Expect in L.A.

By Jessica Bryant, Managing Editor

Co-Founders Ike Grigoropoulos, Dimitri Moshovitis, and Ted Xenohristos were onto something when the three childhood friends decided to extend their full-service restaurant, Cava Mezze, into a health-based fast-casual concept, Cava Mezze Grill, in January 2011. Cava Mezze was founded in 2006, and the trio began distributing their dips and spreads, which they still produce, in 2008.

Now, four years later, D.C.-based Cava Grill, a healthy spin on Mediterranean with locally sourced ingredients in a build-your-own format, is going national with an expansion to the west coast, thanks to a recent $16M in funding, led by VC capital firm SWaN & Legend Venture Partners.

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