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.

With New CEO and Investment Partners, Mendocino Farms Prepares For Expansion

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Soon we’ll start seeing a whole lot more of Mendocino Farms as the brand gears up for expansion.

Foodable first visited the brand back in 2014 when Judy Han was still Mendo’s executive chef. In an episode for our show Fast Casual Nation, we discussed the restaurant’s approach to gourmet sandwiches, its sourcing practices and the relationships this small chain develops with local farmers in each community it serves.

The Southern California-based, fast casual restaurant chain can be found in 16 locations across Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. Now, it plans to open more eateries across California and beyond.

The news come as it was announced that a growth equity firm called TPG Growth has acquired a majority stake in Mendocino Farms. Details of the transaction were not disclosed, but what’s for sure is that co-founders Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen are still the largest individual shareholders of Mendocino Farms.

To support the new expansion efforts the brand is joined by industry veteran Harald Herrmann as Mendocino’s New CEO. In the past, Herrmann served as president of Darden’s Specialty Restaurant Group and co-founder of The Yard House.

“Mario and I have been looking for the right partners to help achieve our mission of growing Mendo, while staying true to the brand’s culture and values. We are thrilled to have Harald and TPG Growth as our new partners,” said Co-Founder Ellen Chen, in a press release.

Learn more at “Business Wire”

100 Montaditos– Over a Hundred Ways to Get a Taste of Spain

Consumers often want to taste various things on the menu, without having to order the whole menu. And this is probably why the term small plates is appearing on menus from large restaurant brands to independent operators. So what if a restaurant gave the consumer the ability to customize their own small plate from over a 100 menu options?

Once Upon A Little Montadito

The fast casual success quickly conquering North America, 100 Montaditos owes some of its success to their sample style menu. Even though most of the menu consists of finger food, you certainly have quite a bit to choose from. The chain offers 100 mini sandwich options known as their montadito, which is a spanish styled, tapa-sized roll stuffed with various quality ingredients. There isn’t just one type of bread– it is a fast casual, after all– they also offer whole grain bread, chapata bread, and for their dessert montaditos, chocolate bread. 

This chain originated in Spain in 2000. Today they have hundreds of locations across Spain and now have started to conquer the US. With a concentrated number of chains in Miami, Florida, they has developed a solid niche in South Florida. However, they have also settled in New York, Maryland, Virginia, and will soon be expanding with a location in Washington, DC.

Millennial Appeal

So besides appealing to consumer with their make your own small plate menu, why is 100 Montaditos attracting new consumers, primarily millennials? Well it probably has to do with its whole dining experience. Consumers don’t go out to eat to just get food, they are looking for something much more. 100 Montaditos provides an attractive dining scene to millennials. The stores are usually located at an actively, street front location. The interior restaurant dining is comfortable and approachable, where you sit yourself at any open table.

Their menu is easy to read with a low price point in the fast casual segment. Even with over a hundred menu items, the menu is not overwhelming and features a numbered list of every montadito. If you are much too indecisive to pick out of the 100, they feature five different collections, which each feature five different montaditos.

Much More Than the Montadito

The menu consists of much more than their signature mini montaditos. They serve popular appetizers, such as fries, olives from spain, alioli potatoes, and bravos potatoes. The small plate theme continues with their meat and cheese plates. As for beverages–they offer alcoholic beverages, such as beer, white or red wine sangria.

This dining experience has resonated with North American millennials due to their customizable menu options and relaxed communal dining atmosphere. They are able to get a taste of Spain without having to travel across the world. As 100 Montaditos says, “one culture, a 100 ways to enjoy it.”