The idea of “fast-casual” dining is definitely having a moment right now. Early adopters like Panera and Chipotle have given way to a massive wave of startups looking to claim their share of the coveted lunch rush, and we’ve tracked down 10 chains that have managed to quickly grab themselves a foothold despite all being five years old or less.
As opposed to fast-food places like McDonald’s or family restaurants like Applebee’s, fast casual — a concept that really didn’t exist a couple decades ago — fits somewhere in the middle. These tend to be places where the general concept is modeled after fast food (you order at the counter and can either eat in or take it to go), but that’s where the similarities end. Consumers are demanding transparency in ingredient sourcing; high-quality, all-natural ingredients; plenty of opportunities for customization; and a commitment to “real” foods — and the fast-casual industry is delivering.
In order to select the cream of this new crop, we tracked down concepts founded no earlier than 2014 that have managed to not only attract a steady following with a unique concept, but have found so much success that expansion isn’t just a goal, it’s a reality. All of these concepts have more than one location — Mark Ladner’s Pasta Flyer and the team behind Eleven Madison Park’s Made Nice (both in New York) have opened to near-universal acclaim, but neither can be considered a “chain” until there’s more than one location. So you might as well learn about these new chains now, because they’re primed for serious success.