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.

Investing in Talent Has Been Key In Tupelo Honey's Success

Investing in Talent Has Been Key In Tupelo Honey's Success

On this episode, top executives from emerging brand Tupelo Honey share with Foodable valuable insight on building an engaging lifestyle brand. Tyler Alford, Vice President of Operations, believes it all starts with hiring the right people and he attributes this philosophy to Tupelo Honey’s CEO, Steve Frabitore. Eric Gabrynowicz, Vice President of Culinary and Corporate Executive Chef of Tupelo Honey, is an example of this philosophy. He brought over to the brand tons of experience when he joined the team in 2016, having worked at Danny Meyer’s acclaimed Union Square Cafe in New York City onto eventually opening his own restaurant, and becoming a four-time James Beard Award semifinalist.

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Emerging Brands - Ep 5 - Steve Schulze, President and CEO of Nekter Juice Bar

In 2010, Steve Schulze was working to become a healthier version of himself, just like everyone else. But after learning that the “healthy” juices he was drinking were actually made with additives and fillers, he knew society needed a better option for all the consumers trying to improve their lifestyles. So he began his mission with Nekter to become the “people’s juice;” affordable, accessible, and truly healthy. 

Now with 100 locations across the U.S., Nekter provides juices, smoothies and acai bowls, all without fillers. For less than $5, people can easily grab and drink 5 pounds of vegetables as opposed to the $8 filler juices offered at what Schulze calls “elitist juice bars.”

Schulze points to his people as his best marketing strategy. He says it’s all about listening to what your consumer wants, not what you want, and consistently providing that. With the next generation looking even more intently at healthy options, Schulze is excited to see what’s next.

Emerging Brands - Ep 4 - Sam Polk, CEO of Everytable

Sam Polk was a hedge fund manager before he had, what he calls, a “crisis of conscience.” He was awakened by a number of structural inequalities he saw in our society, especially those in our food system. So he set out to confront those inequalities, first with his nutrition program Groceryships, and now with Everytable.

Everytable is first and foremost a business just like Tender Greens or McDonalds. But Polk’s mission is a little loftier. Seeing that access to healthy food is scarce in underprivileged neighborhoods, Everytable strives to provide healthy options to underserved neighborhoods at truly affordable prices. Clean, vegetable-forward, culinarily-driven meals are sold at lower price points than their larger, less-healthy competitors.

So how does he do it? You’ll have to take a listen to this episode of Foodable’s Emerging Brands Podcast Series for his full business model, but variable pricing plays a major role in creating profitable stores that are truly accessible to all income levels.