Nation’s Restaurant News has selected five emerging foodservice brands as its 2014 Hot Concepts award recipients.

Hot Concepts recognizes forward-thinking companies at the leading edge of foodservice that also show strong potential for growth.

This year’s honorees are strong on healthy eating and made-from-scratch freshness, while also featuring a chicken segment contender and an operator in the less populated bacon-burger niche.  

  • NRN celebrates 2013 Hot Concepts winners
  • 2012 Hot Concepts Award winners
  • More emerging restaurant chains

The Hot Concepts honorees for 2014 are LYFE Kitchen, PDQ, Protein Bar, Slater’s 50/50 and Snap Kitchen. These standout brands will be honored at the Hot Concepts celebration, sponsored by e*Restaurant from Altametrics, during the MUFSO 2014 conference, which takes place Oct. 5–7 in Dallas.

“At NRN, we are surprised and delighted every year with our Hot Concepts winners and what they deliver. They’re always bold, creative and built to succeed with today’s consumers who embrace new ideas,” says NRN editor-in-chief Sarah Lockyer. “We look forward to celebrating these outstanding brands during the MUFSO show.”

Now in its 20th year, Hot Concepts is one of the industry’s most prestigious award programs. Winners are selected by the editorial team of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Find out more about each of the 2014 Hot Concepts winners:

LYFE Kitchen

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Headquartered in Chicago, this health-oriented concept was launched in 2011 by former McDonald’s executives Mike Roberts and Mike Donahue. An acronym for “love your food every day,” LYFE features a menu of gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian dishes that have 600 calories or less, 1000 milligrams of sodium or less, and contain little to no white sugar or trans fatty acids. Chefs Tal Ronnen, a vegan proponent, and Art Smith, who worked with Oprah Winfrey, consult with LYFE executive chef Jeremy Bringardner. They deliver what Donahue calls, “great-tasting, convenient, affordable food that’s very good for you.” LYFE has two units in Illinois, four in California and three opening soon in Dallas. The chain is aiming for 13 locations by year’s end.


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Tampa, Fla.-based PDQ (People Dedicated to Quality) is a fast-casual restaurant specializing in fresh, hand-battered chicken tenders, made-to-order sandwiches, fresh-cut fries, hand-spun milkshakes and fresh salads. Developed by Bob Basham, former Outback Steakhouse co-founder, and Nick Reader, chief executive of MVP Holdings, the concept debuted in 2011.

“It’s all about fast and fresh,” says Basham of the chain, which has over 22 locations from Florida to North Carolina, with more on the way.

PDQ, with its emphasis on freshness, looks to stand out in the crowded quick-serve and fast-casual chicken segment.

“Everything is made fresh on site,” said Jeffrey Kamis, head of the company’s marketing and public relations, including each of PDQ’s seven signature sauces and salad dressings.

Protein Bar

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Matt Matros founded Protein Bar in 2009 to bring healthy, great-tasting food to on-the-go customers. Growing up overweight and losing his father to a heart attack, Matt realized how diet and stress could impact health. At 22, he was on the same unhealthy path as his father and decided to make a change. He spent his life savings to open the first location in downtown Chicago, with a plan to have 10 locations in 10 markets within 10 years. But success may alter this plan: “There’s room to penetrate Chicago and D.C., so it could be more like 20 units in five markets in 10 years,” he added, noting that consumer research confirms a growing interest in healthful foods, like Protein Bar’s Bar-ritos, quinoa bowls and smoothies.

Slater's 50/50

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One ingredient that piques the interest of most Americans is bacon. That's the position of Scott Slater, whose concept has found a niche within the casual-dining segment — the bacon niche. Slater’s 50/50 was launched in 2009. Slater teamed with executive chef Brad Lyons to create the original 50/50 patty (50 percent ground bacon, 50 percent ground beef) on a menu that includes amplified burgers and indulgent dishes to pair with over 100 local and regional craft beers. Bacon appears on Slater’s menu in many forms, including Fried Bacon Mac N' Cheese Balls, Fried Chicken & Pancakes, in a milk shake, and topping a brownie dessert. The Southern California-based concept has seven locations today, up from two last year.

Snap Kitchen

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This Austin, Texas-based company was created in 2010 by founders Martin Berson and Bradley Radoff to make fresh, healthful foods as easy to grab and go as a bag of chips at a convenience store. Berson said they saw “a fundamental shift” in convenience meal purchases, especially those linked to diet, lifestyle, fitness and overall health.

The chain offers prepared salads, meals, snacks, desserts and juices, as well as packaged individual meals, from $3 to $13. Executive chef Matthew Reinhart’s menu changes seasonally and features such items as Peanut Butter Pancakes, Grass-Fed Beef Meatballs and Peppers, Mediterranean Spaghetti Squash and Herbed Quinoa Mac & Cheese. Snap Kitchen currently has six locations in Austin, seven in Houston and four coming soon in Dallas.

Look for in-depth profiles on each of the Hot Concepts award winners before the celebration at MUFSO 2014.