Smaller, perhaps mightier, and definitely eager to prove something, the fastest-growing Second 100 chains are poised to leave a large footprint on the restaurant industry, however small they are today.
As opposed to many of the mature, billion-dollar brands in the Top 100 report, Second 100 concepts range in size from $414 million to $161 million in total U.S. systemwide sales. The highest number of units from any Second 100 brand is below the 1,000 mark, at 926 locations.
While there are certainly brands on the decline represented in this report, the chains on the rise exemplify what makes the restaurant industry so dynamic.
“We’re kind of the little engine that could,” Chris Tomasso, president of First Watch, has said. The breakfast, brunch and lunch concept jumped into the Second 100 this year on sales growth of 19.7 percent. I would hesitate to call First Watch a “little” anything, as the brand has been embraced by consumers and has grown steadily within a tired and plateaued family-dining segment.
Shake Shack is a “brand that really punches above its weight,” CEO Randy Garutti has said. Shake Shack also debuted in the Second 100 this year after a sales surge of 60.3 percent led to its position as the fastest-growing chain. Like First Watch, I would hesitate to label Shake Shack a lightweight, as the brand’s expansion, consumer following and leap overseas has placed it into the heavyweight ring.
But these brands, and other rising concepts like The Habit Burger Grill, Zoës Kitchen and Newk’s Eatery, aren’t just smaller versions of national chains. They have something different and maybe even something more. As younger and more nimble brands, many of the Second 100 qualifiers, at least those brands on the rise, were founded at the beginning of the revolution surrounding a consumer’s relationship with food. These brands were on a growth track when demands like menu freshness, ingredient transparency, customization in menu items and the authenticity of branding — from employee engagement to supplier relationships — became the norm.
Many of these brands helped create change in the restaurant industry, and now are the change in the industry. I can’t wait to see what’s next.