The Emerging Entrepreneurs Of Fast Casual Dining


Fast Casual Dining is a trend that has been steadily growing for the past decade but recently it seems to have reached its tipping point and is exploding across the country. With the success of companies like Noodles & Co, Chipotle & Panera, more and more fast casual options are emerging, changing the way we eat by offering customers personalized orders, healthier options while still meeting the demands of the time constrained masses. Early developers of this growing market segment realized that there was a need for better quality, real food and affordable pricing while keeping a faster pace than traditional sit-down restaurants.

It wasn’t too long ago that few people were familiar with this term, however, now it’s become a staple that even has its own Fast Casual Executive Summit for owners and operators of fast casual chains to come together. According to FastCasual.com the annual sales of the fast casual movement are over 23 Billion dollars and Inc Magazine listed twenty different fast casual chains in their Inc. 500 List of fastest growing businesses in America. With less than ten percent of the market share, it’s still the fastest growing segment since the economy took a nose dive in 2007.

However, capitalizing on this growing trend doesn’t have to be something that’s only left to the likes of power players like Qdoba, Smashburger and Jason’s Deli. There’s a saying, “think globally, act locally,” and that’s just what several large market entrepreneurs did to get their smart casual concepts off the ground.

Here are 3 successful start-ups that are doing it right in their own local market and cashing in on the fast casual movement.

Modmarket, Denver

Modmarket is the brainchild of friends Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan. Pigliacampo first came up with the idea after work took him on extensive traveling across the globe. He saw there was a missing market segment back in the states for something casual enough to appeal to a large audience, but quality enough to make you want to sit for a moment to enjoy. The healthy, fresh ingredients were something countries abroad simply never questioned: of course the beef was local, naturally the greens came from some farm nearby. Yet teens and adults alike would converge in these casual places to eat together for a time and then leave without the long turnover time of an upscale eatery. He did research on the growing popularity of the fast casual market trend, then recruited friend McColgan from his job at Goldman Sachs to start up a fast casual concept in Denver together. The first Modmarket opened in Denver in 2009 and they’ve been rapidly expanding since, with seven locations open and three more slated for this spring. Denver seems hungry for this fresh, locally sourced, gluten and high-fructose free dining experience.

Photo Credit: http://nataliepigliacampo.com/post/69040594971/modmarket-founders

Photo Courtesy of: http://nataliepigliacampo.com/post/69040594971/modmarket-founders


True Food Kitchen, Phoenix

True Food Kitchen is one of the now many smart casual restaurant hubs of creator Sam Fox’s Fox Restaurant Concepts. Fox Restaurant Concepts operates over 14 concepts and 39 locations of great dining options across the country. One of those concepts is the smart casual chain True Food that has caught on like wildfire. The concept for True Food Kitchen actually came about as a result of Fox’s meeting Dr. Andrew Weil, famed doctor and naturopath. Dr. Weil collaborated with Fox to come up with the concept of eating good food that tasted good, too. On Oct. 27, 2008, the first True Food Kitchen opened in Phoenix. It was popular overnight and it inspired Fox and Dr. Weil to open new locations in Arizona and throughout the southwest.  True Food Kitchen locations use local, organic sources whenever possible and are committed to a healthy diet and a community setting for their dining customers. The trend is popular, as locations have stemmed far beyond Phoenix to include areas of Southern California, Texas and Denver, just to name just a few.

Photo Credit: http://media.culturemap.com/crop/8e/37/600x450/True-Food-Kitchen-Santa-Monica-Dr.-Andrew-Weil-preparing-our-famous-Kale-Salad_111052.jpg

Photo Credit: http://media.culturemap.com/crop/8e/37/600×450/True-Food-Kitchen-Santa-Monica-Dr.-Andrew-Weil-preparing-our-famous-Kale-Salad_111052.jpg


Tender Greens, Los Angeles

The three founders of Tender Greens came up with the concept while they were working at the Santa Monica hotel icon, Shutters on the Beach. Erik Oberholtzer, Matt Lyman and David Dressler worked as chefs and Food and Beverage Director (respectively) but were burned out on the corporate work environment. Understanding how to create great food and comprehending the good business practices required in a restaurant, the three decided to start their own fast casual project. They wanted Tender Greens to taste amazing but come from local farms and were insistent that it be a healthy, fast casual option for the busy and typically healthy Los Angeles lifestyle. With six opened locations in Los Angeles and more in Orange County, San Diego County and the Bay Area, Tender Greens clearly has a chef’s appeal that feeds the needs of their fast, price conscious customers. What’s more, Tender Greens is committed to the communities in which they operate. They’ve partnered with local groups and their sourcing farm in Oxnard, California, to start the Sustainable Life Project, a program that provides internships for youth transitioning out of the foster care system and into a safe, trustworthy working environment to learn how to support themselves. They saw what opportunities food brought them and want to pay that forward by hiring at-risk and homeless teens to teach them the skills they need to transition into successful lives. Great food that gives back, Tender Greens is a fast casual movement with heart.


Photo credit: http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/23/smallbusiness/tender-greens/

Photo credit: http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/23/smallbusiness/tender-greens/



Matthew Toren

Matthew Toren is a serial entrepreneur, mentor, investor and co-founder of YoungEntrepreneur.com. He is co-author, with his brother Adam, of Kidpreneurs.org, BizWarriors.com and Small Business, BIG Vision: Lessons on How to Dominate Your Market from Self-Made Entrepreneurs Who Did it Right (Wiley).

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