Fast Casuals Worth Following

A look at the fastest concepts leading the segment right now

Want to get into the fast casual game? Check out two concepts that are doing it right.


Concept: Barbeque is king at this 23-unit concept headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. 

Founder: Rick Malir opened the first location in Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, in 1999.

Background: Malir, who has won awards on the competitive barbecue circuit with his cooking team, catered barbecue events from his garage in Columbus. 

Menu: Pork, beef and other proteins with emphasis on free-range and all natural with some local ingredient sourcing. Employees cut meats in front of customers; made-to-order sandwiches.

Check average: $12 to $15, with beverage

Decor: Rustic, roadhouse-style with reclaimed barn boards and other woods for tables and seating.

Growth capital: Bootstrapped first unit; combination of bank debt and cash flow to open outlets. 

Expansion strategy: Two City Barbeque outlets—North Carolina and Kentucky—to open in 2015. Prefers sites in strong suburban neighborhoods. Goal is to launch three more locations.


Concept: Build-your-own pizza, headquartered in Washington, D.C., featuring a TurboChef conveyor oven that cooks pizzas in just under two minutes. Twelve locations with more on the way.

Founders: Michael Lastoria and Steve Salis, co-founders

Background: Entrepreneurs Salis and Lastoria, who have beverage and advertising backgrounds, moved from New York to D.C. for their first unit on H Street in mid-2012. They hired architect Thaddeus Briner of Architecture Outfit to design it, who also designed Chipotle’s ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen.

Menu: Customers line up and choose from three types of dough (traditional, ancient grains or gluten free), eight sauces and spreads, three cheeses, and a variety of meat and vegetable toppings. “Finishes” include garlic oil, oregano oil, red pepper chili oil and tzatziki yogurt. 

Check average: $10 to $12, with beverage.

Decor: Black and white brick walls; customers share long communal tables.  

Growth capital: Ruby Tuesday founder and strategic advisor Sandy Beall is among the investors.

Expansion strategy: Open locations in the Northeast (including Boston) and urban outlets before launching in the suburbs.  


Concepts That Landed the Capital 

  • In 2011, Brentwood Associates began funding a Los Angeles vegetarian concept called Veggie Grill. Since then, it has grown from seven outlets to 28 in California, Oregon and Washington.
  • Private equity firm Catterton has recently provided growth capital for Piada Italian Street FoodMendocino Farms and Protein Bar.
  • KarpReilly recently funded Patxi’s Pizza, a 15-unit concept in the San Francisco Bay area; 70 outlets on the West Coast are set to open within the next five years. The firm also owns controlling interest in Burger Lounge, a fast casual gourmet burger concept.