How Naf Naf Grill Plans to Conquer the Middle-Eastern Fast Casual Food Space

The fast casual segment is no longer just reserved for Panera Bread, Chipotle, and Shake Shack.

The better-burger sector gets more saturated every day with multiple chains out there serving up burgers, fries and hot dogs like Smashburger, Five Guys, and Burgerfi.

There are even more pizza concepts for consumers to pick from like Mod Pizza, Blaze Pizza, PizzaRev, &pizza, Uncle Maddio's, and Pieology.

As more of these chains immerse the market, the more intriguing fast casual concepts serving rarer cuisines become.

Today's American foodies are on the lookout to try something new. Enter Middle Eastern cuisine.

The fast casual chain Naf Naf Grill is leading the way in this sector and is bringing Middle Eastern cuisine to the masses.

The menu consists of items like pita sandwiches, falafel, hummus, veggie feasts, and salads– all appealing to vegetarians and vegans.

Although these menu items are similar to those of the Mediterranean cuisine, Naf Naf plans to conquer the Middle-Eastern market in the U.S.

"There’s a lot of competition in the Mediterranean space. You won’t find all kinds of lettuce, feta cheese and olives in our concept. We are known for falafel, chicken shawarma and pita. These three menu items are made fresh in–house every day. Our goal is that consumers fall in love with the freshness, healthiness and flavors that they may not have tried before," said Paul Damico, who was named CEO of Naf Naf Grill in 2017 to "Forbes."

Naf Naf Grill has an aggressive growth plan and intends to achieve it by ramping up franchising in 2019.

In 2017, the company's sales spiked by 58 percent compared to the year before.

Read more about how the chain plans to expand rapidly at "Forbes" now.

Want to know Damico's best advice? We recently interviewed the Naf Naf Grill CEO and former president of Moe’s Southwest Grill to see what tips he had for up and coming operators. Sign up for Foodable+ to watch this video and get more exclusive content!

Middle Eastern Cuisine is on the Rise: Q&A with Naf Naf Grill’s CEO

Middle Eastern Cuisine is on the Rise: Q&A with Naf Naf Grill’s CEO

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

The fast casual segment has come a long way from being made up of concepts like Pei Wei, Chipotle and Panera Bread. There are new sectors in this segment constantly emerging- whether it’s a particular culinary style like Indian or Mediterranean food, or focused around one offering like, the gourmet taco or the gourmet burger.

Now, consumers have a variety of quality, affordable options to pick from. And American foodies are always on the lookout to try something new. Enter Middle Eastern cuisine, the latest sector on the rise in fast casual.

Although the Middle Eastern culinary style has some foreign elements to the American consumer, bread, a fan-favorite, is often the base of these dishes.

A fast casual concept expanding rapidly is Naf Naf Grill, a restaurant chain currently with 25 stores, including one new location opening at the Mall of America this weekend. These restaurants are bringing Middle Eastern cuisine to the masses and the brand just recognized as a Hot Concept.

We sat down with one of Naf Naf Grill’s co-CEOs, David Sloan to learn why guests are lovin’ this style of food and what is to come for the brand.

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How Hot Are These Hot Concepts?

How Hot Are These Hot Concepts?

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Foodable Labs is tracking the restaurant industry on social 24/7.

If you are not familiar with the Restaurant Social Media Index, it tracks consumer social data through five tracking categories- Sentiment, Influence, Engagement, Social Restaurant Visits, and Mobile Engagement.

Social Restaurant Visits (SRVs) are particularly important because it’s an excellent way to measure Social ROI.

SRVs include a variety of data points for direct social visits, intent to visit or a return & refer mention. This can be when a customer mentions, takes a picture, or performs a "check in" on social media referencing a restaurant’s location either in the post or it's recorded in the geo-metadata.

The RSMI’s proprietary methodology for SRVs digs into as many as five levels deep in a conversation to harvest the Social Restaurant Visits.

To put it simply, if a restaurant brand is seeing an increase in SRVs, the stores are evidently seeing an increase in foot traffic.

In July, Nation’s Restaurant News released the 2016 Hot Concept award winners. Five emerging restaurant concepts are editorially selected to be featured. We decided to take a closer look at these concepts in relation to their SRVs.

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