What Makes these Fast Casual Innovators the Best in the Business

Fast casual is a term I coined in the mid-’90s at the time to create a way to identify the segment compared to the bulky titans of fast food and casual dining. It wasn't rocket science for me to come up with the term or to even launch fastcasual.com, it was at a time when I saw the culmination of a few strong-minded individuals willing to push the status quo with the right ideas that were starting to connect with an emerging new consumer.

I had the opportunity to meet and work with these fast casual innovators early in my career when I started to see the hidden gems of restaurant brands that they were forging. But the most important aspect that I understood back in the ’90s was not my connection to food, it was my connection to technology consumer adoption and my understanding that technology would someday be the guiding force of the restaurant business.

Fast forward 25 years later and you now have a segment nearing 100 billion in sales and almost every aspect of communication is referring to the term I coined back in the ’90s. My observation and study of the segment, the consumers, the trends and the leaders still drive my curiosity today. If you have not had a chance to check out the documentary Fast Casual Nation, be sure to check it out on Amazon Prime here!

Join me in The Barron Report episode above as I break down some of the pioneers and emerging brand titans of the fast casual sector as I analyze both the pros and cons of some of the best brands in the business.

How the Urbane Cafe Plans to Conquer the Fast Casual Bakery Category

Many brand leaders today are faced with the decision to either upgrade their financial partners or to continue on their own.

Tom Holt of Urbane Cafe, saw value in forging a partnership and decided to team up with Industry Veterans Andrew and Peggy Cherng, the co-founders of the Chinese fast food chain Panda Express, to grow the brand. Urbane Cafe has quickly become a California staple for guests seeking out high quality products at a great value.

The unique fast casual concept is taking a bakery café to a whole new level with its featured bread baking center and solid menu items where simple food matters most. The chain evidently resonates with guests, which is also one of our Top 150 Emerging Brands for 2018.

With Panera Bread and Core Life Eatery taking the top spots in the Bakery/Café category in our Foodable Labs Index of the Top 150 Brands, Urbane Cafe is on the move and set to challenge even the hardcore performers of 2018.

Holt an ex-motocrosser understands the aspect of competition and is building a concept that is set to thrive in the saturated market. The brand has got the holeshot (a motocross term meaning a driver who has the strongest start). This paired with the investment from Panda Express founders will parlay into a controlled but aggressive growth plan.

Understanding the guest connection is the key with any great CEO. Holt has a key understanding of what the communities are seeking and has figured out a way to deliver the full package of great food, experience, ambiance, and performance as a rising brand.

If any weakness exists, it will be in the crowded fast casual sandwich segment in California as well as pressure from the vegan and healthy halo category leaders like Veggie Grill, sweetgreen, and Tendergreens.

As we see more performance from the Emerging Brands of 2019, we will be sure to update you with some of the latest trends and traction they are getting in the market. Be on the lookout for more Emerging Brands CEO specials on The Barron Report soon!


11:08 - Addressing New Consumer Eating Styles

13:42 - Business Trends

20:26 - Social Responsible Restaurants

24:04 - Higher Labor Costs

27:50 - Menu Development and Culinary Trends

:50 - Welcoming Tom Holt

1:33 - Urbane Cafe, the Pioneer in the Fast Casual Bakery

4:47 - Building an Emerging Brand

7:12 - Panda Express Investment

9:15 - 5 Year Road Map

Produced by:

Rachel Brill

Rachel Brill

Social Producer