When people think of restaurant chains, they think of the most popular ones; McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, and so on. However, the fastest-growing restaurant chains in the U.S. are names that might not be common to most eaters. On top of that, the rise of the health-conscious consumer has made an impact on what is most popular these days. The time of people not caring about what they eat is over. The following list of restaurants is ranked by sales growth. You might be surprised by what company proudly owns that coveted top spot. You might also find some investing opportunities along the way.
All numbers below as of May 21, 2019.
1. Mod Pizza
- Sales Growth: 44.7%
- Total Unit Growth: 33%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 1.2%
You can guess the specialty served at this restaurant, which is the fastest-growing chain in the U.S. for the second consecutive year. Mod Pizza falls into the fast-casual food category, with the owners focused on a socially conscious platform. Mod pays above the minimum wage, donates significantly to charity, and hires people from all walks of life, including those who have spent time in rehab or prison.
Mod Pizza grew 44.7% in the previous year with sales of $390.7 million. Mod Pizza opened in 2008, has over 400 locations, and is targeting total locations of 1,000 by 2024.
2. First Watch
- Sales Growth: 33%
- Total Unit Growth: 23%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 8.8%
First Watch focuses on breakfast food and caters to families. It's the fastest growing food chain in the family dining sector. The restaurant serves food that is health conscious, in tune with what customers are looking for in their dietary intake. In 2018, it was also voted one of the best places to work by the Business Intelligence Group.
The company saw sales growth of 33% from the previous year and currently has over 350 locations and is targeting a total number of locations to be around 600.
3. Shake Shack
- Sales Growth: 27.3%
- Total Unit Growth: 36%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: -7.8%
Shake Shack needs no introduction. It is one of the most popular burger chains in the world, with locations in many countries, and it all started from a stand in New York City.
The company is a pioneer in how it attracts employees, such as testing a four-day workweek. Shake Shack saw sales growth of 27.3% from the previous year. The company is a powerhouse with over 250 locations worldwide, including 10 Shake Shacks in airports around the world.
4. Lazy Dog
- Sales Growth: 27.1%
- Total Unit Growth: 20%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 6.3%
Lazy Dog is about the atmosphere. They've created a restaurant that takes people to the Rockies with their cabin-like decor. The food focuses on popular American staples, such as burgers and ribs, and they've also tapped into the popular craft beer trend, offering plenty of craft beers to wash down all that food with.
The company saw sales growth of 27.1% and operates a little over 30 restaurants in a handful of states with plans to open further across the country.
5. The Habit Burger Grill
- Sales Growth: 22.9%
- Total Unit Growth: 18%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 2.9%
The Habit Burger Grill is a fast-casual restaurant whose specialty is charbroiled burgers. They saw sales growth of 22.9% and have approximately 250 locations. In March 2020, Habit Burger Grill was bought by Yum! Brands, the same company that owns Taco Bell and KFC.
6. Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers
- Sales Growth: 22.5%
- Total Unit Growth: 13.6%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 6.5%
First opened in 1996 in Baton Rouge, La., Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers offers— you guessed it—chicken fingers (never frozen) and its own dipping sauce that employees have to swear to never reveal its components. It's the fastest growing chain focused on chicken, with sales growth of 22.5% with almost 500 locations.
7. True Food Kitchen
- Sales Growth: 22.2%
- Total Unit Growth: 19%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: -1.7%
True Food Kitchen is a health-focused brand that has grown rapidly and continues to do so. Its introduced delivery, added a loyalty program, and received an infusion of capital from Oprah Winfrey. The company saw sales grow by 22.2% and has 33 locations nationwide.
8. Tropical Smoothie Cafe
- Sales Growth: 20.3%
- Total Unit Growth: 14.5%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 4.3%
As the name would note, this restaurant chain specializes in smoothies. However, as part of its growth strategy, the company has focused on food offerings that have helped spur growth. 60% of sales come from smoothies and the rest from food.
The company saw sales growth of 20.3% and has 836 locations.
9. Jersey Mike's Subs
- Sales Growth: 17.8%
- Total Unit Growth: 11.2%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: 5.1%
Jersey Mike’s Subs focuses on sandwiches, has grown rapidly, and has now started to work with Uber Eats and to offer drive-thru options. The company saw sales growth of 17.8% and has an astonishing 1,600 locations nationwide.
10. Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza
- Sales Growth: 17.1%
- Total Unit Growth: 24.9%
- Estimated Sales Per Unit (ESPU) Growth: -10%
Blaze Fast-Fire'd Pizza focuses on pizzas and is known for its 11-inch pizza pie and has been testing a 14-inch pizza pie as well. The company is a leader in the fast-casual sector, with sales growth of 17.1% and 300 locations.
The Bottom Line
You might find some investment opportunities on this list, but it is also important to recognize what types of restaurant chains are growing the quickest and where food trends are moving, before making any decisions.