The hunt for “the next big thing” is never-ending in the restaurant business, and the editors of Nation’s Restaurant News are always on the lookout for cutting-edge brands that capitalize on consumers' changing tastes. The Breakout Brands 2014 special report showcases 10 such concepts, but below are more restaurant brands that NRN editors are watching.
Sarah Lockyer, editor-in-chief
GRK, New York City
Taking advantage of consumers’ growing comfort and demand for more ethnic-inspired cuisine, GRK Fresh Greek, offers “yeeros,” better known as gyros, salads and Greek yogurt in a Chipotle-style setting. It’s fast, it’s well-priced and it's high quality, using locally sourced meats and imported yogurt flown in from Greece. The concept debuted in New York’s Financial District in 2012, and a second location in midtown is expected this year, as well as a potential location in Washington, D.C.
Mark Brandau, senior editor
Wit or Witout, Philadelphia
Longtime Philadelphia restaurateur Tony Altamore acquired two-unit Philly cheesesteak chain Wit or Witout — a play on any good cheesesteak joint’s standard question of with onions or without — a year ago, standardizing operations “and changing everything [on the menu] but the Cheez Whiz” to make the concept a fast-growing franchise. Bruster’s Real Ice Cream chief executive Jim Sahene bought into the concept a few months later and brought his team of marketing and franchising executives to quickly expand the concept serving authentic Philly cheesesteaks with an authentic Philly “Yo!” greeting. Wit or Witout’s third location is scheduled to open in New Jersey in early 2014.
Kitchen 67 Brann’s Café, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Johnny Brann Jr., the second-generation restaurateur behind this fast-casual eatery serving three dayparts, developed the concept to be as innovative in customer-facing technology as it is in Millennial-friendly flavors like “A1 aioli” or the Asian-ginger sauce and pan-fried noodles in the signature Sizzle Bowl. Every booth in the restaurant has wireless charging stations for smartphones, and at-table iPads let guests access the restaurant’s iTunes digital jukebox and high-speed Wi-Fi. The menu also shows wide range, from “sizzling sirloin” and steak burgers to vegetarian, gluten-free and low-calorie options.
Ron Ruggless, Southwest bureau chief
Brix, Omaha, Neb.
This two-unit Brix, created by former wine rep Dan Matuszek, brings together wine and spirits retailing into an extensive shop, sophisticated bistro and event center with a foundation of card-dispensed sampling of 64 wines by the ounce or by the glass.
Juby True, Scottsdale, Ariz.
Fox Restaurant Concepts squeezes into the fruit and vegetable juice space with cold-pressed drinks, smoothies and cleanse programs in a unit attached to a True Food Kitchen, though future stores may be stand-alone.
Amazón Grill, Houston, Texas
Cordúa Restaurants LLP of Houston, owned by father-son team Michael and David Cordúa and Nicaragua-based Deshon Investments, plans to expand the one-unit fast-casual Amazón Grilll in a hub-and-spoke format with its full-service Churrascos – first in Houston and with an eye to expanding the Latin American-influenced restaurant to Dallas.
Lisa Jennings, West Coast bureau chief
Top Round Roast Beef, Los Angeles
It has been called the “In-N-Out of Roast Beef” and “Arby’s Re-Imagined by LA Hipsters,” and both descriptions apply to this sandwich concept created by Anthony Carron, also the genius behind the 800 Degrees fast-casual pizza chain. Top Round offers a short menu of tender roast beef sandwiches and curly fries cooked, yes, in 100-percent beef fat. For dessert: frozen custard, and maybe an extra Lipitor pill. One unit but Angelinos are clamoring for more.
Dog Haus, Pasadena, Calif.
Move over Pink’s. This is a hot dog concept founded in 2010 and known less for the actual dogs or sausages and more for the outrageous toppings, like smoked bacon, fried egg and tater tots (the “Grand Slam”), or cucumber kimchi relish, cilantro aioli and salty peanuts on the spicy Thai red currywurst (“One Night in Bangkok”). Founded by partners Hagop Giragossian, Quasim Riaz and André Vener, Dog Haus has three units open and a franchising plan that has 11 franchisees signed on to open 51 more.
Bret Thorn, senior food editor
5oz. Factory, New York City
Milwaukee native-turned New York lawyer Daniel Schuman teamed up with 20-year restaurant veteran Angela Kuzma to bring his beloved frozen custard to New York City. Named for the standard size of a frozen custard cup in Wisconsin, 5oz. Factory also offers super-rich “melts” made with meatballs, sausages and Wisconsin cheese served in the large hero rolls that New Yorkers can sink their teeth into.
The Cowfish Sushi, Burger, Bar, Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.
Named after an actual type of fish, this restaurant has lines out the door at its two locations for customers seeking burgers, sushi or both. It’s owned by 17-year restaurant veteran Louise Camire, most recently in management at San Diego-based Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza; former Houston’s manager Alan Springate and Marcus Hall, who has been working with Asian Fusion concepts since 2005.