Nation’s Restaurant News has awarded four foodservice brands with its annual Hot Concepts awards, which celebrate innovation, vitality and growth within the restaurant industry.
The 2012 Hot Concepts winners have earned recognition with their bold moves in areas like technology and social media, as well as menu development, outstanding creativity and strong sales results in a persistently sluggish economy.
The class of 2012 includes CoolHaus, a food truck fleet focused on ice cream sandwiches; Del Frisco’s Grille, the smaller, more casual offshoot of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse; Pie Five Pizza Co., a fast-casual, make-your-own pizza chain; and STACKED, a full-service brand that focuses on healthful, customized food and infuses technology into the customer experience.
“This year’s winners are moving foodservice forward by embracing today’s changing consumer landscape, from their use of technology and social media to their customer-friendly service styles and menu choices,” Randall Friedman, publisher of Nation’s Restaurant News, said. “I look forward to celebrating these Hot Concepts award winners as great examples of the restaurant industry’s innovation and strength.”
The winners will be feted at the Hot Concepts award celebration — sponsored by e*Restaurant from Altametrics, an enterprise management solution — during the 53nd annual MUFSO.com.conference. MUFSO, the preeminent education and networking event for foodservice executives, will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Dallas. Learn more at
NRN’s Hot Concepts program, now in its 18th year, recognizes forward-thinking companies positioned at the leading edge of the foodservice industry. Winners are selected by the editorial team of Nation’s Restaurant News.
2012 Hot Concepts winners
CoolHaus, based in Culver City, Calif., has grown to a fleet of 11 food trucks operating from Los Angeles to New York City, from its humble beginnings as one old postal van serving ice cream sandwiches. Founded by an architect, Natasha Case, and a real estate developer, Freya Estreller, Coolhaus — named after Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus — allows customers to build their own sandwich by choosing from six cookie bases and 25 ice cream flavors.
The brand emphasizes all-natural and often local ingredients, and serves its sandwiches in edible wrappers, creating a unique appeal to the sustainable food movement. In addition, CoolHaus is known for its cutting-edge flavors and combinations such as seasonal olive oil and rosemary ice cream on brioche cookies, and brown butter and candied bacon ice cream on chocolate chip cookies.
As a mobile foodservice operation, CoolHaus has marketed its brand and garnered customers via its use of Twitter to publicize updated locations and flavors, and an online calendar of events.
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Del Frisco’s Grille, based in Southlake, Texas, is the sister brand to Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. The concept emphasizes a more casual, bar-centric atmosphere over the standard steakhouse experience. Del Frisco’s Grille boasts locations in New York; Dallas; Phoenix, Ariz.; and Washington, D.C., with an additional location set to open in Atlanta this fall.
Though focused on classic steakhouse fare, Del Frisco’s Grille also sprinkles in lighter menu options, including wood-fired flatbreads and ahi tuna appetizers. The restaurants also have developed distinctive beverage programs that feature handmade cocktails and expansive wine lists. The bar is a big draw, with shots on tap and creatively named cocktails like the Honey Badger and the Kilt Lifter, as well as “liquid desserts."
At some units, the brand has decided to also serveand brunch for the power breakfast crowd, the company said. Serving a morning daypart would be a first for the steakhouse operator.
Pie Five Pizza Co., based in The Colony, Texas, has quickly garnered a leadership position in the quickly expanding fast-casual pizza sector.
At just one year old, Pie Five Pizza has grown from one restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas, to six units across the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The concept will welcome its seventh location on the University of Texas, Arlington, campus this fall. The prototype location covered about 2,100 square feet and has about 70 seats.
Owned by Pizza Inn Holdings Inc., which was one of the best-performing restaurant stocks of 2011, Pie Five appeals to millennials, teens and customers with higher income levels. Pizzas are baked to order in less than five minutes, with the option of any sauce and topping combination, or one of the brand’s 11 specialty pies. The customer also chooses between a nine-inch Crispy Thin or Classic Pan crust.
STACKED: Food Well Built, based in Yorba Linda, Calif., is a concept based almost fully on the customer, aimed at affording them maximum efficiency and convenience when ordering their meals.
When at STACKED, customers use iPad tablets that line each table to create a customized meal, choosing from an array of ingredients on the menu. Customers pay for their meals at the table via the tablet as well.
Jerry Hennessy and Paul Motenko, the co-founders of STACKED who also built the successful BJ's Restaurants, spent two years researching favorite consumer foods and the ideal combinations of toppings, as well as the technology to make this level of customization possible.
The STACKED founders say the game-changing aspect of iPad service is not, in fact, the technology itself, but simply the appeal of what it allows guests to do: customize. Customers have embraced the iPad system not because it’s “cool” or simple to use, Motenko told Nation’s Restaurant News earlier this year, but because “people get exactly what they want.”
Look for in-depth profiles on each Hot Concepts award winner in the August 20 issue of Nation’s Restaurant News and on NRN.com.