10 Fast-Casual Chains to Watch Out for in 2017

Lunchtime is about to get a whole lot better

10 Fast-Casual Chains to Watch Out for in 2017

The “fast-casual” industry — think of places like Chipotle or Panera — is booming. According to Technavio, the market for fast-casual fare is expected to hit $66.87 billion by 2020, and there are dozens (if not hundreds) of fast-casual concepts that have opened in recent years that are going to be competing for their share of the pie, some as offshoots of major fast food chains and some from big-name fine dining chefs. Though some are bound to fail, these 10 chains are on a path to major success, and you should definitely be on the lookout for them in your neck of the woods. 

&pizza

Washington, D.C.-based &pizza uses organic dough and sources ingredients as locally as possible. Guests can graft their own pizza with unique components like ancient grains crust, mushroom truffle sauce, vegan “mozzarella” or “beef,” and spicy chick peas. There were 13 locations in 2015, and currently there are 20 locations in D.C., Northern Virginia, and Pennsylvania, with one opening soon in New York City. 

Blaze Pizza

Co-founded by Elise and Rick Wetzel (of Wetzel’s Pretzels fame), the Pasadena, California-based Blaze is standing apart from the pack by making pizza assembly-line-style (similar to Chipotle) and cooking pizzas in three minutes. In 2004, the company expanded from 10 to 50 locations; 100 were open by the end of 2005, and there are currently more than 175 locations across the U.S. with a few in Canada. The brand counts Maria Shriver and LeBron James as investors. 

BurgerFi

South Florida-based BurgerFi has crowds flocking to its hormone- and antibiotic-free burgers, which are customizable with 12 toppings (even fries and onion rings can have up to six toppings). The chain reported $100 million in sales in 2015 (a 69-percent increase from 2014). It’s rapidly expanding, with about 100 locations (including several international locations). 

Freshii

As the name might imply, Freshii is all about build-your-own fresh salads, sandwiches, and bowls with plenty of seasonal menu items to keep things interesting. This Canadian chain was founded in 2005, and there are currently more than 100 locations around the world, with plenty of American outposts in the works. 

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Hopdoddy launched in 2010, and sets itself apart from the pack by serving a wide variety of burgers made from humanely raised cows with fresh ground beef, house-made buns, table service after you place your order at the counter, and a full bar. There are currently 15 locations (most in or around its home base of Austin) with more in the works

Jersey Mike’s

New Jersey-based Jersey Mike’s is (pardon the pun) on a roll. For the past three years it’s been named America’s fastest-growing restaurant chain by Nation’s Restaurant News, exploding from 700 locations in 2013 to more than 1,500 today. Specializing in big, customizable hot and cold subs and wraps with meat and cheese sliced to order, this chain is one you’ll definitely be hearing more about soon if you haven’t already. 

MOD Pizza

House-made sauce, organic dough, hand-spun shakes, and unlimited complimentary toppings all contributed to Seattle-based MOD Pizza growing massively over the past couple years, from 92 units in 2015 to more than 170 in 2017. A $32 million investment from Perella Weinberg Partners didn’t hurt, either. There are currently locations in 21 states and the UK

PDQ

PDQ stands for “People Dedicated to Quality,” and the six-year-old Tampa-based chain is betting big on chicken tenders, with the gamble appearing to pay off. PDQ’s menu focuses on chicken tenders, nuggets, sandwiches, and salads, but they’re doing things a little bit differently than your usual fast-casual chain. The chicken is 100-percent natural, never frozen, and contains no added hormones or steroids; tenders are hand-breaded in-house; the 11 sauces and dressings are made from scratch every day; salads are made to order; shakes are hand-spun to order; and cookies are fresh-baked in house daily. Even though there are currently only 55 locations in seven states, by the end of 2017, the plan is to open 22 more units in five new markets and to open a hundredth location in 2018.

PizzaRev

Los Angeles-based Pizza Rev is backed by Buffalo Wild Wings, and today there are nearly 40 U.S. locations with plenty more in the works and a few Mexico locations. PizzaRev lets customers choose from nine “Our Way” pizzas or select from three crusts, five sauces, six cheeses, and nearly 30 toppings, including plenty of vegan and vegetarian options. 

Sweetgreen

One of the hottest fast-casual chains out there today (especially among millennials) lets you choose from a wide selection of pre-designed salads and bowls, or you can customize your own from a staggering variety of healthy, organic, locally sourced sustainable ingredients from vetted reputable farmers and providers. D.C.-based Sweetgreen has grown from seven locations to more than 40 in recent years, and it’s not afraid to push the envelope — it recently announced that it would be moving to an entirely cashless payment system by March 2017.