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NRN 50 Breakout Brands

The NRN 50: Breakout Brands

In this year's NRN 50 special report, "Breakout Brands," NRN takes a look at 50 brands that are some of today's hottest emerging concepts. Meet the concepts shaking up the restaurant marketplace. 

What’s new? What’s hot? What’s next?

Restaurant operators ask themselves those questions day in and day out. And in this year's NRN 50 stories you’ll find some answers.

Welcome to the 2013 edition of The NRN 50, an annual study on a single topic. In prior years we’ve looked at industry power players, game changers and icons. This year the editors of Nation’s Restaurant News bring you the industry’s “Breakout Brands.”

Robin Lee AllenWe profile some of today’s hottest emerging concepts — ones making their marks with their innovative experiences and cutting-edge cuisines. Some of the concepts may be familiar and some may not, but each has a notable differentiating factor — or two or three — fueling its momentum.

NRN’s nationwide network of editors scouted their regions looking for unique up-and-coming brands to include. The criteria to qualify as a “Breakout Brand” were both concrete and intuitive. Brands had to range in size from a couple of units to 75, have an interesting point of differentiation and have demonstrable expansion plans.

Less easy to quantify but equally important, they had to be generating excitement among consumers, operator peers and potential investors. We searched for brands that are drawing crowds, making money and, in some cases, winning the attention and financing of big companies and private equity firms.

To be sure, such a list is subjective. And we spent as much time winnowing it as we did hunting for brands to include. That says something admirable about the ideas and aspirations rampant throughout the industry. The past few years may have been tough, but they in no way dampened the entrepreneurial spirit or the desire to create and grow inventive new concepts.

While the “Breakout Brands” is a special project, it is only one of the many ways NRN strives to showcase the wealth of innovation occurring routinely across the industry.

Each year, our Hot Concepts Award program recognizes lesser-known brands brimming with creativity and growth potential.

In October we honored CoolHaus, a food truck fleet focused on ice cream sandwiches; Del Frisco’s Grille, a casual offshoot of the upscale Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse brand; Pie Five Pizza Co., a fast-casual customized-pizza chain; and Stacked: Food Well Built, a fast-casual brand for which technology plays a big role in the customer experience. Because those awards were so recent and the brands’ profiles can easily be found on, they are not included in this issue.

We also showcase emerging brands in the Growth Chains feature in each issue of NRN, as well as on the Emerging Chains page on In addition, we address the “what’s new?” question in Eat Beat, a weekly e-newsletter produced by our sister publication Restaurant Hospitality and NRN.

Each brand sports icons denoting what we consider its “breakout factors,” or the competitive distinctions driving its appeal and moving it forward. Among them are the hot niches, culinary trends, leadership changes and funding infusions propelling the brand.

The icons are intended as an easy way to see similarities between brands. For instance, the apple indicates brands with a healthful bent, and the globe indicates an ethnic cuisine. The diamond, which appears frequently, points to the growing number of brands boasting premium products — a reflection of consumers’ increasingly sophisticated palates.

Thanks to the entire editorial team for their keen “buzz barometers” and the lively debating that occurred to create the list, and to Christi Ravneberg, our managing editor — production, for wrangling the project into shape.

So what’s new? What’s hot? What’s next? Click here to find out.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @RobinLeeAllen.

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