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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'Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats' Documentary Now Available On Demand

The way America eats is changing. We want better options. We want better ingredients. We want better sourcing. We want better experiences. We want food with a story — and we want it fast. The last four decades of fast food is fading and now we're making room for a new culture of good food: fast casual. And what is fast casual?

Find out in "Fast Casual Nation: Changing the Way America Eats." This full-length documentary, which has been 10 years in the making and which first premiered in 2015 during the National Restaurant Association Show, is now available for streaming through Vimeo On Demand and soon to be available on Netflix.

Follow Paul Barron, the pioneer who coined the term "fast casual" in 1993, as he travels around the country to share plates with the greats. Featuring Smashburger Cofounder Tom Ryan, Firehouse Subs CEO Don Fox, Modern Market Founder Anthony Pigliacampo, Panera Bread Founder Ron Shaich, and many others, dig into the stories of the iconic leaders and game-changers who are transforming the movement of our restaurants and the future of our food.

"My advice for people getting into the business is fast casual is clearly where one should expect to find the energy, the growth, and quite frankly, the ability to find what the next couple of generations are going to be eating on an everyday basis," Ryan said in the film. "By consequence of that everyday basis, it's where the biggest part of our business is going to grow to."

Fast casual — the societal shift and evolution from quick-service to high-quality, efficient, better-for-you, and better-for-the-environment ingredients — is the David vs. Goliath story of food. From Miami, Dallas, and Washington, D.C., to the Pacific Coasts of San Francisco, and all the foodie gems in between, this is documentary is more than exclusive interviews with top chefs and restaurateurs. "Fast Casual Nation" is our chance to change food for the better.

"I think the story shows the entrepreneurial nature of the restaurant industry and how consumers are driving change. There is a little something for everyone, whether you are in the industry and want to hear from your peers...or you just love food," film director Nathan Mikita said. "My hope is that you walk away with an education on how the restaurant industry has shifted, and that as consumers, we have a voice — we just need to choose where to put that capital."

Often times, we only see the rotten stories of foodservice: the inhumane, the unhealthy, and the distasteful. "Fast Casual Nation" is here to prove the foodservice industry is one of advancement and one of renewal, and that foodservice is not just filled with the bad apples we see dominating the food documentary scene.

"'Fast Casual Nation' is the first of many restaurant genre films that we [Foodable Network] are launching this year and next, as the need need for great stories about our industry is a huge injustice to the restaurant industry," Foodable founder, film writer, and executive producer Paul Barron said. "Our mission here at Foodable Network is to change that public perception that our industry is full of bad actors."

"'Fast Casual Nation' has been a dream of mine since I launched Fastcasual.com in the mid-90s, and even more so since the publishing of my book, 'The Chipotle Effect," he continued. "The full story is now in place. This documentary is really the first chronology of some of the greatest innovators our business has ever known. This is your chance, as a viewer, to become part of the revolution."

Smashburger Cracks the Code on Menu Development

Smashburger Cracks the Code on Menu Development

Menu development has become one of the most important operational aspects for fast-casual restaurants. But between sourcing consistent ingredients on a scalable level and ensuring top-notch distributors, it takes time, effort, and experience to do so efficiently.

So, we packed our bags for Denver and set out to talk to one of the pioneers of fast casual, who has been in the trenches of menu development for a long time: Tom Ryan, the chief concept officer at Smashburger, a concept that now boasts 350 locations around the world.

According to Ryan, menu development is a huge standout for consumers as their dining expectations evolve. “Food is becoming more and more topical; it’s becoming more and more integrated into people’s lifestyle, both at home and eating out,” he says. “And the demand of those customers and their discrimination is causing everybody in the industry to kind of up their game.”

By utilizing consistent, high-quality distributors, Ryan says Smashburger employees are able to focus more time on customer service and “smashing burgers perfect every time,” and less time being pressured to perform more and more internal prep.

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On Foodable Feature: Burger Tour

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In the premier episode of On Foodable — the Foodable Network's insider show for all things restaurant & hospitality, including insights from the industry's top executives and operators — host and industry guru Paul Barron spends a day with Smashburger Founder Tom Ryan for a proper Miami Burger Tour.

The two bring their expertise together as they review -- and indulge in -- some of the Magic City's best offerings from the better burger segment, including Lokal, Shake Shack and BurgerFi. Watch the full episode as Paul and Tom dive into what it takes to be at the top in fast casual burgers.