Celebrating Fast-Casual Up-and-Comers

It’s National Small Business Week, and President Barack Obama and the U.S. Small Business Administration are among those celebrating the vital contributions of the country’s entrepreneurs and their built-from-the-ground-up ventures.

Based on current federal size standards for most retail concepts, a small business is one that averages less than $7 million in receipts annually. So this week, we’re taking a look at several small but growing fast-casual concepts to see how they’re striving to make their mark in the highly competitive but still-hot fast-casual category.

Concept: MOD Pizza
Segment: Pizza
2012 sales: $6.5 million
2012 units: 8

MOD—it stands for Made On Demand—is a Seattle-based concept that specializes in artisan-style pizza. A standout among the 10 specialty pizzas on offer (all priced at $6.88) is the Mad Dog, featuring a signature red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, mild Italian sausage and crumbled meatballs. MOD also offers salads; the chain’s beverage lineup is unusual for the pizza segment in that it includes not just soda but also beer, wine and hand-spun milkshakes. Founded in 2008, MOD cites as its inspiration fast food from the early 1960s and the “young, retro and slightly irreverent” style of the British mod subculture.

Concept: Blue Lemon
Segment: Bakery Café
2012 Sales: $3 million
2012 units: 3

Blue Lemon promises “pure, clean food with a twist.” Based in Salt Lake City, the concept expands on the bakery-café segment’s focus on sandwiches and salads to also offer a selection of starters, flatbreads and gourmet entrees, such as slow-braised beef short ribs ($11) and fish tacos ($12). Blue Lemon introduced a new breakfast menu this month, with items ranging from grilled steak and eggs to blueberry-lemon ricotta pancakes. The chain offers catering service, and one of its locations is equipped to host weddings, corporate parties and other events.

Concept: Bruxie
Segment: Sandwiches
2012 sales: $5 million
2012 units: 4

Bruxie is a Southern California sandwich concept that uses traditional Belgian waffles—crispy and not especially sweet—as bread. Savory sandwich builds include the Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Waffle, with chili honey and cider slaw, and the Bruxie Burger, topped with Cheddar, sliced tomatoes, pickles, mayo and lettuce. Sweet selections include PB&J and s’mores varieties. The chain markets itself as a fun and family-friendly destination for breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert.

Concept: Taqueria del Sol
Segment: Mexican
2012 sales: $5.2 million
2012 units: 7

Mexican cuisine drives the menu at Taqueria del Sol, but Southern influences are apparent, too, at this 13-year-old concept. Exhibit A: Fried chicken tacos, featuring fried chicken strips, lime-jalapeno mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. The chain states on its website that it aims to keep the menu simple, proclaiming, “We would rather do fewer things great than many things ‘just OK.'” Taqueria del Sol offers a full bar and signature as well as build-your-own margaritas. Based in Atlanta, the chain now also has locations in North Carolina, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

In coming years, we may see these emerging players on Technomic’s list of the Top 150 Fast-Casual Chain Restaurants. And in the fast-paced world of fast-casual, it’s always worthwhile to spend some time examining who’s coming up.


Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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  1. Lots of respect for the above concepts. We are buding our 2nd location now. Seeing the success of these guys gives us hope. Keep slugging it out every day and if you come to CLT, NC, look us up!!

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