You’ve heard the news, the sky is falling on the fast casual segment and it’s doomed. The reality is that the fast casual category is going through much of what retail is experiencing today… shuttering of underperforming stores, responding to shifting consumer behaviors, new forms of competition, and the need to seamlessly connect the customer experience at all touchpoints. It’s called change. And while some fast casual restaurants may be struggling with the concept, there are some bright spots in the sector that warrant some serious attention. How are they finding success with others seem to be sinking? Let’s take a look at their recipe.
In 2010 three college students, brothers Zach and Josh Weprin, along with childhood friend Stephan Harman, set out to make sushi accessible to everyone. The trio, notably without restaurant experience, instead combined their knowledge of real estate, finance, and hospitality, to create Fusian, a build your own sushi roll concept (a la Chipotle style). The concept offers over a thousand different combinations, even offering untraditional options like roasted chicken and braised beef, appealing to sushi novices and experts alike.
The Fusian team has aimed to keep things transparent with the belief that it’s almost as important as where you’re eating as it is what you eat From the minute you walk in the door, to the front of the house food prep, and all the way to the back of the house, they want customers to see it all firsthand.
With a newly designated test kitchen in their Grandview outpost, the brand is continuously evolving the menu, keeping things constantly fresh by introducing seasonal ingredients, local menu collaborations, and testing new sushi methods beyond the roll.
“Our Grandview store is the perfect location for us to try new things. The surrounding neighborhood is rich with progressive palettes and a diverse base of diners willing to discover. Grandview is the epicenter of ‘Test City, USA’, the moniker NPR has rightfully given to Ohio’s center city,” says Fusian co-founder Stephan Harman.
With 12 locations throughout the Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and Toledo area, the brand has plans to expand in current markets, as well as Cleveland in 2018, but their approach is slow sustainable growth. In terms of scale the focus is geared towards expanding their existing footprint and improving operations in existing locations.
With 15 locations and counting, New York-based Dig Inn has focused on making farm-to-table accessible since 2011. In a “fine fast” environment the brand combines the convenience of fast casual and the full service of fine dining to create what they call farm-to-counter. Each dish is made from scratch with high quality, local ingredients. Comprised of customizable grain and salad bowls, the menu is wholly determined by what’s in season and sourced through a partnership with over 40 local farms.
The restaurant environment’s cozy, homelike feel reinforces the desire to embrace a slower approach to the appreciation of quality food. CEO, Adam Eskin, understands the digitally driven Millennial generation, but also recognizes their desire to disconnect, and therefor has focused on slowing things down to deliver on creating a quality experience. “We feel very strongly that we can be creating environments and experiences that are meaningful for people, so they will actually put their phones down for a few minutes and engage with one another. That is what we’re trying to build.”
Beyond just locally sourcing foods they’ve made ethical food practices a critical element at the core of the brand, taking a personal role in investing in the next generation of chefs and culinary leaders through education, advisory, and even financial support. What they take from the earth they not only work to replenish, but look for ways to return to the community. The brand plans to add 13 to 15 locations in the New York and Massachusetts are along with a third state by 2019.
While healthy restaurant concepts are certainly rising to the top of the fast casual scene, there’s no denying that there’s still a strong desire for good ole American comfort food. The hot dogs at Dog Haus though are anything but ordinary. Gourmet, one-of-a kind creations like the Reservoir Hog, featuring a Polish kielbasa, haus chili, haus slaw and yellow mustard or the Sooo Cali, with wild arugula, avocado, tomato, crispy onions, and spicy basil aioli, take your traditional ballpark hot and turn it on its head.
Dog Haus credits its approach to high-quality, premium ingredients like 100% genetically tested, humanely raised Black Angus and hormone-free, antibiotic-free meats, and as what has helped make the brand a “haus” name in the region. Guests can choose from signature Haus creations or customize their own 40+ quality toppings then gather around communal-style tables for a modern take on a nostalgic experience.
Where most fast casual concepts are slow to scale, Dog Haus’ aggressive approach to growth is almost as bold as what they’re serving up on their buns. Last year the brand announced a partnership with the American Development Partners to invest and open more than 300 franchise locations in the next 7 years. Currently the brand has 21 fast casual concepts throughout Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah.
Want to know more about what’s driving restaurant concepts to evolve? Check out insights from Kathy Fiorenza, Account Director of Food Concepts here.