Nation’s Restaurant News has selected five foodservice brands to receive the 2013 Hot Concepts awards.

Hot Concepts recognizes forward-thinking companies that are at the leading edge of foodservice and show potential for growth. This year’s honorees range from an innovative Italian street food concept to a brand that aims to define the “fast-fine” niche.

2012 Hot Concepts celebration
2011 Hot Concepts celebration
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The Hot Concepts class of 2013 is Fresh to Order, Max’s Wine Dive, Modmarket, Piada Italian Street Food and Umami Burger. The brands will be honored at the Hot Concepts celebration, sponsored by e*Restaurant from Altametrics, during the MUFSO SuperShow, Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, in Dallas.

“I am always amazed by the creativity of restaurateurs. These Hot Concepts winners showcase the differentiated menu and consumer positioning needed to succeed in today's restaurant industry,” notes NRN editor-in-chief Sarah Lockyer. “We look forward to celebrating these outstanding brands during the MUFSO SuperShow.”

Now in its 19th 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 2013 Hot Concepts winners:

Fresh To Order

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This eight-unit concept, based in Alpharetta, Ga., was founded in 2006 and has plans to add three to four more stores by year’s end.

“Incredible food, service and an unparalleled dining environment in under 10 minutes for around $10” is how Pierre Panos, founder and president, describes the concept.

A veteran fine-dining restaurateur, Panos says Fresh to Order has created an entirely new niche that he calls “fast-fine.” He added, “Fine dining shouldn’t leave you broke, and that’s our promise, offering fine-dining-quality food made from fresh ingredients at fast-casual prices.”

Rising revenues are evidence of Fresh To Order’s growing appeal. Stores average $1.7 million annually with year-over-year comparable sales growth of 10 percent.

Max's Wine Dive

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Headquartered in Houston, this concept, which combines gourmet comfort food with retail wine sales, opened in 2006. An offshoot of owner Lasco Enterprises’ Tasting Room Wine Cafes, the four-unit operation features combinations such as fried chicken and champagne.

“We tapped into the emerging trend of comfort food,” says Jonathan Horowitz, a partner in Lasco.

Half the menu is more traditional comfort foods, while the other half varies by location. Chefs in each city can shape 50 percent of the menu based on what they want to cook and what demographics dictate. For example, Horowitz says a chef in Austin, Texas might offer farm-to-table selections, while a chef in Houston emphasizes Italian influences, and the one in Dallas puts an Asian spin on his food.


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Based in Golden, Colo., Modmarket is a fast-casual restaurant offering simple, whole ingredients — locally grown or organic, when possible, and all freshly cooked in house. The first restaurant opened in Boulder in 2009, followed by three others, all in Colorado.

Anthony Pigliacampo, co-chief executive, and Rob McColgan, his business partner, expect to reach seven units this year with another six restaurants planned for 2014.

Each store is averaging more than $2 million in sales per year with an $11-per-person check average.

The brand boasts a focus on health that doesn’t chase trendy buzzwords. “We wanted to create food you could eat every day,” Pigliacampo notes. “You could probably find places with lower-calorie dishes, but my feeling was most people wanted to eat food that tasted really good and might actually make them better off.”

Piada Italian Street Food

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This fast-casual Italian concept is built around the piada, a tortilla-like bread, which founder and chief executive Chris Doody first encountered in Italy. This thin bread is cooked on a stone with olive oil and then filled with high-quality ingredients.

Started in Columbus, Ohio in 2010, Piada has grown to 10 units, all in Ohio, with each serving hand-rolled piadas, pasta bowls and chopped salads in a warm and inviting atmosphere. With its upscale ingredients, customizable offerings and walk-the-line style of service, the brand has been likened to Chipotle and Panera Bread. Being compared to these brands is a compliment, says Doody, who adds that Piada is positioned to not only compete with these particular brands, but also to complement them.

Umami Burger

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Opened in 2009, this 14-unit, Los Angeles-based chain features burgers with unusual toppings such as truffle glaze, shiitake mushrooms and port-caramelized onions.

In an unusual twist that seems to be working, Umami burgers are not customizable by customers.

As noted in NRN’s Breakout Brands special report, “People argue about the reality of umami, the supposed ‘fifth taste’ discernible to the palate but not easily described by the brain. What’s indisputable is the reality of Umami Burger, a concept that’s alternately described as distinct, groundbreaking, clever, trendy and pricey.”

“This is a fast-casual concept that we want to bring to other U.S. culinary centers where people can tolerate a $20 check for a premium burger, side and drink,” said founder Adam Fleischman.

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