FSR's Top 11 Stories of 2017
Performance and potential earned restaurants a spot among this year’s FSR 50. We also kept the list to brands with 50 or fewer units. In other words: These are the restaurants we’d put money on to take the nation by storm. We broke it down by sales, AUV, and more. Concepts range from classic brands from the 1960s to chains just getting started.
My college days mostly consisted of eating mashed potatoes with soy sauce (this was actually a staple at my school) in the dining hall, or just trying to pay for pizza when I couldn’t afford shampoo. That doesn’t mean college students around the country suffered like I did. In fact, we broke down the top 10 most iconic college eateries, a story that clearly struck a chord with people. Some memories—and rivalries—never die.
Always an in-house favorite each year, FSR once again identified 40 up-and-comers ready to define new expectations for the industry. We spanned the spectrum this time, featuring everyone from a teenage prodigy to chefs leading James Beard Award-winning kitchens. Shameless plug: March 1, expect to see a whole new list hit the press. Pictured is Esther Choi.
This has been a wild and very interesting year for casual dining. Here’s something about Texas Roadhouse. I get this question from people all the time: Who’s doing the worst? (Why they ask that first might explain humanity a bit.) But then people usually ask me who’s doing well. When I say Texas Roadhouse, pretty much everyone, from my father in law to that guy I just met at the county fair, nods. People have positive reactions to the brand. And that’s what its brass is courting. They keep the model simple, effective, and exactly how everyone wants it. Don’t overcomplicate the process, especially when that process is a successful one.
This is another annual favorite of the FSR staff. This year, we broke it up by centuries. We looked at the top 100 independents from the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s. I always enjoy chatting with operators from cities I didn’t know were in America, learning how they survive for decades without the brand value some of these bigger guys enjoy. Or, in many cases, how they build institutions as recognizable as the markets themselves. Take New Orleans’ Commander’s Palace (pictured above) for example. The restaurant has its own paint color for sale in stores. If that’s not making it, I don’t know what is.
For anyone who has walked the floor at the National Restaurant Association’s annual show, you understand how easy it can be to get lost. Or to eat a hot dog, grilled cheese, some kind of sliced beef, ice cream, fried chicken, cheese … I can keep going … before getting back to your booth. I did my best this year to recap the 11 products that really caught my eye. Ever had cold brew ice cream? You should. Pictured is Libbey's Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tasting glass.
Curt Catallo and Ann Stevenson, the husband/wife duo behind Union Joints, are attracted to buildings that have served one purpose and are prime to serve another. Here’s their story about taking these venues and during them into some of the top restaurants in Michigan.
If you haven’t heard of Walk-On's Bistreaux & Bar by now, the day is coming. The sports-themed restaurant, once named America’s best by ESPN, has major expansion plans for the future. We’re talking more than 100 commitments in the pipeline with 13 states in sight. It’s a concept started by literal walk-ons of the LSU basketball team, and its menu goes Cajun to family fare to everything in between. Duck & Andouille Gumbo, anybody?
Cameron Mitchell describes his group’s hospitality as a triangular relationship: “We take care of our people; our people take care of our guests; our guests will take care of our company.” The Columbus, Ohio, restaurant mogul took some time to chat with FSR about his philosophy: a people-first model that’s fueling a $250 million dining empire.
I truly believe, even though the numbers are still rough, that Applebee’s is on the right track. The new leadership appears to understand where Applebee’s went wrong and how it needs to get back. Will it work? Can Applebee’s return to its value-based and Middle-America core? I don’t know. I’m not sure any of us do. But it’s going to be extremely interesting to see how the nation’s largest casual dining chain revamps its operation. I’m a believer in the positive direction. Let’s see how it unfolds.
As our beer writer said, “Let’s gaze into our crystal growler and see what trends are fermenting for 2018.” That’s more puns than my brain is capable of producing.