The 2014 Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers publication was released this morning for download, after an awards gala last night in Chicago. The event was timed to coincide with the National Restaurant Association tradeshow. Both The Top 100 and gala were sponsored by restaurant equipment manufacturer, Henny Penny.
Judges determined the top 50 brands based on industry nominations and subsequent debate on the significance of the nominees to the segment. Criteria included innovation, growth, social responsibility and overall contribution. In addition, the judges acknowledged the 20 industry executives who have most contributed to the evolution and health of fast casual, the most influential menu innovations, and the most impactful food and technology trends.
Smashburger, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Fazoli’s were recognized as the first, second and third brands, respectively. Carl Howard, CEO of Fazoli’s, was named the industry’s No. 1 executive. The top menu trend was bite-sized food and snacks. The most influential technology trend went to mobile apps.
“This year's competition was fiercer than ever; we had nearly 900 nominations,” said Cherryh Butler, senior editor of FastCasual.com. “In the end, the judges could not ignore Smashburger's success. With more than 250 restaurants worldwide and a new CEO at the helm, the chain's growth isn't stopping, with plans to open another 70 to 80 units by the end of 2014. Combine that with its dedication to menu innovation and its focus on each local community in which it resides -- every city has a special burger honoring its customs and serves local craft beers-- and you have a fun, innovative brand that people love."
"This award means a lot to us. Fast casual dining has been, and continues to be, the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry," said Greg Creighton, chief operating officer of Smashburger. "We saw a need for better burgers in this segment seven years ago. People were looking for quality, service and atmosphere that the fast food burger chains couldn't answer.
"We are the leader in the fast casual burger business. There is a healthy appetite for our quality burgers, chicken and salads. It's the reason we are 267 units in seven short years. We plan to have about 400 restaurants open by the end of next year."
Of the $231 billion limited-service category, fast casuals now account for $34.5 billion, according to Technomic. The fast casual segment is driving the majority of growth in the restaurant industry, increasing sales 11 percent in 2013, compared to the industry average of 3.5 percent.
“The Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers represent those brands, individuals and trends that are truly moving the needle in our industry,” said Jason Moles, field marketing manager of Henny Penny. “We are excited to partner once again with Networld Media Group and FastCasual.com to recognize these innovative brands.”
Download this year's Top 100 here.