Del Frisco’s Grille

FSR 50: Top 10 Fast-Growing, High-Performing Chains

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Based on year-over-year growth in sales, these are the brands that ended 2014 at the head of the class.
By By Kevin Hardy August 2015 Bar Management

Variety may be the spice of life, but it also appears to be the stimulator of growth. FSR’s list of Top 10 Fast-Growing, High-Performing Full-Service Chains includes a wide array of concepts that dramatically increased sales from 2013 to 2014. From a Japanese barbecue concept to a tapas chain to trendy burger concepts, the brands on this list grew sales between 25 and 58 percent in 2014—remarkable achievements particularly considering that the National Restaurant Association reports the average year-over-year sales growth at 3.8 percent.

Here’s a look at the Top 10 over-achievers:

Del Frisco’s Grille

Sales growth: 58.2 percent

The upscale-casual Del Frisco’s Grille leads the pack on sales growth among full-service chains. From 2013 to 2014, revenues increased from $44.1 million to $69.8 million, to some extent due to five restaurant openings during the year.

The brand comes from prime stock—with sister concept Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House one of the most successful high-end brands—and the dining experience at the Grille concept is equally polished in a relaxed and comfortable way. The Del Frisco’s Grille menu includes regional favorites made from locally sourced ingredients, along with regional wines and local brews, all of which company executives say positions the brand well to compete for Generation X customers. And the 17-unit chain isn’t slowing down; plans call for six new locations in 2015.

Bareburger

Sales growth: 39.2 percent

You might call Bareburger’s growth as healthy as its menu. The organic, all-natural burger chain boosted its sales by more than $13 million in 2014, topping the $46 million mark, and growing from 17 units to 21 locations. A completely new menu brought on unexpected ingredients like wild boar, duck bacon, and Amish Blue Cheese, giving customers an accessible avenue to try finer foods. In opening its Columbus, Ohio, unit, Bareburger picked an unlikely spot for its first foray outside the core New York Metropolitan area. However, in the current year Bareburger has expanded even more adventurously, opening its first international store in Toronto followed by its first location in Tokyo, which is on track to open this summer. New stores are also in the works for Chicago and Santa Monica, California, as well as Long Island, where the restaurant will be erected using 11 recycled shipping containers. Never one to shy from the untried, the brand has also experimented with a limited-service concept in Manhattan’s financial district, hoping to appeal to lunchtime and take-out crowds.

Twin Peaks

Sales growth: 38.9 percent

Twin Peaks is banking on the basics that appeal to a predominantly male demographic: big games, happy hours, and, of course, the allure of its attractive servers. In 2014, the brand opened 18 locations, and sales crested above $239 million. The company has also been pushing up its AUV, especially at newly opened stores, in part because of better site selection—since 2010, the chain’s AUV has increased from $3 million to $4.3 million. In addition to opening its first brewery in Texas last year, Twin Peaks also began bottling its brews for retail sales. This year, the 68-unit company plans to add 15 new stores.

Gyu-Kaku

Sales growth: 37.5 percent

Gyu-Kaku says there’s no magic to its impressive growth in sales. The Japanese barbecue chain known for social dining—where guests help create their meal on personal charcoal grills—grew revenues 37.5 percent in 2014 to top $70.4 million, increased same-store sales by 9 percent, and opened seven new stores. Another impressive milestone: No Gyu-Kaku store has closed during the last 15 years. With nine stores in the works for 2015, the brand plans to make its first move into a handful of new markets including Dallas, Orlando, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., either this year or next. And things will only accelerate from there: With an expected 39 stores by the end of this year, Gyu-Kaku plans on breaking the 100-store mark by 2018.

Brick House Tavern & Tap

Sales growth: 37.3 percent

It would be easy to guess that Brick House Tavern & Tap is the favorite child of parent company Ignite Restaurant Group. While its other brand, Joe’s Crab Shack, has suffered sales declines, Brick House is posting impressive gains, taking sales from $51.3 million in 2013 to $70.5 million last year. With 23 locations scattered around the country, the self-proclaimed “next-generation tavern” has elevated amenities like live music, more than 30 flat-screen TVs in each unit, and leather recliners complete with built-in TV trays. Ignite restructured its management early this year and took advantage of some prime real estate by opening new Brick House Tavern units in New Jersey and Texas in former Romano’s Macaroni Grill locations, a brand that Ignite sold to Redrock Partners last year.

Umami Burger

Sales growth: 29.7 percent

Umami Burger, a distinctly Southern California concept with guests so loyal they resemble a cult following, is now playing in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

Sales growth spiked last year, passing $48 million, due in part to the opening of four new stores. Existing stores saw increased sales, too, thanks to LTOs like the Pumpkin Spiced Latte Burger and a revamp of the beverage program. The chain partnered with Pepsi to offer its signature real sugar and craft soda portfolio, and Umami standardized its craft beer and craft cocktail offerings.

Late last year, former Burger King president Paul Clayton took the reins after Umami Burger founder Adam Fleischman stepped down as CEO.

Umami opened in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood in the spring and the brand has plans for a new store in Santa Monica, California, later this year.

Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant

Sales growth: 29.6 percent

With only 12 stores, Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant is a tapas-style Spanish concept that is managing to post some pretty impressive numbers. In 2014, the brand’s systemwide sales grew by some $10 million, nearly a 30 percent spike, to reach $43.8 million.

A member of the Barteca Restaurant Group, the brand prides itself on offering farm-to-table, locally sourced ingredients in distinctive and compelling neighborhood restaurants. Barcelona is also one of the country’s biggest importers of Spanish wines and has earned a Wine Spectator Award every year since 2007. Moving slow and steady compared with other chains—Barcelona launched in 1996 in Connecticut—the brand has plans to venture deeper into the South with new stores planned for the Washington, D.C., and Atlanta areas this year.

Rusty Bucket

Sales growth: 29.4 percent

Like most chains in the polished-casual realm, Rusty Bucket wants to present more like an independent operator than a multi-unit company—but this 18-unit concept is hitting the mark, offering a higher quality product with nearly all the ingredients sourced fresh and the cocktails creatively handcrafted. Sales growth stands testament to the brand’s success, topping $43 million in 2014. Among the brand’s more innovative strategies is a sophisticated approach to digital marketing that includes having a marketing ambassador on hand at each store. Rusty Bucket opened two stores in 2014 and plans to open five stores this year—two in Detroit suburbs, and one each in Charlotte, North Carolina; Sarasota, Florida; and Cincinnati, Ohio. The goal is to expand into a new market each year: Charlotte in 2015 and likely Denver in 2016.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant

Sales growth: 27.6 percent

On track to reach $150 million in revenues this year, Cooper’s Hawk Winery has many successes to toast, including having expanded beyond its Midwestern roots into Florida and Virginia. The upscale, modern-American concept purchases grapes from the West Coast and creates all its own wines at its Chicago-area winery. Restaurant business accounts for about 70 percent of sales with the remaining 30 percent coming from a monthly wine club, which boasts 130,000 members, and retail wine sales. The company topped $117 million in sales in 2014, and if it hits its projection for 2015, it will have exceeded its sales trajectory of the preceding year-over-year period. With 19 units, Cooper’s Hawk is on pace to open four to five stores a year. CEO and founder Tim McEnery says, “In five years, we’ll probably be at 40–50 restaurants, but the number isn’t the goal. Doing it well and keeping it interesting is the goal.”

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

Sales growth: 25.17 percent

Firebirds pushed its systemwide sales to $118.3 million in 2014, up more than $20 million over the prior year, thanks in large part to the opening of seven new stores. The year was also full of new menu developments, including a new small plates offering and a line of hearty soups. This year the polished-casual chain kicked off a campaign for Warm Hospitality, based on the premise that no detail is too small. It seeks to redefine service by focusing on customer greetings, individualized options for guests, and even the plating of garnishes. Firebirds, currently at 36 units, will open a store in Mason, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, this year, and has another four or five units in the works for 2016.

Source: Company reports and statements, SEC filings, and Technomic data.