Of the 24 chains on this year’s list of the fastest-growing emerging brands, a full one-third are health-focused concepts. That’s by far the most-represented segment on Restaurant Business’ Buzzworthy Brands list for 2021.
Thomas Nieto, CEO and co-founder of Main Squeeze Juice Co., thinks he knows why.
“Over time, the demand for all-natural, healthy, clean eating has only continued to rise,” Nieto said. “I think, if you’re in my space, unless you’re really just screwing it up, you should be doing pretty good.”
More than just the menu, though, there are a number of reasons why these juice, smoothie, salad, bowl and other clean-eating concepts are well-suited for all of the shifts seen during the pandemic.
Most can operate with limited square footage. Their dishes are designed to be portable. And most have fairly limited labor needs.
Those were all considerations for Andrew Pudalov, founder and CEO of Rush Bowls, when he left his job in New York City’s financial sector for a much different life in Boulder, Colo., in 2004, to start the bowl chain.
“We were small square footage, really zero waste and clean nutrition,” Pudalov said. “And that really helped us grow immensely. And there’s companies trying to emulate that.”
Rush Bowls took the No. 1 slot on this year’s list, with three-year average sales growth of 99.2% and unit growth during that period of 117.8%, according to data from RB sister firm, Technomic.
“As horrific as COVID was and is, it’s helped us as a company be a better company,” he said. “Being the size we were, with a small footprint, very high-traffic business model focused on delivery and other points of sale, we were really focused to be adaptable. We’re able to adapt to the changing environment as quickly as possible.”
Rush Bowls, with units around 1,000-square-feet, launched curbside pickup and added QR code ordering within weeks of the pandemic, and started working more closely with the big delivery services.
As other growth chains also noted, communication with franchisees during the time was essential, he said. Those discussions were aided by the fact that everyone currently in the executive ranks of Rush Bowls has managed one of the chain’s restaurants.
“The key for us was having lots of Zoom calls,” Pudalov said. “How can we solve this together? It was really a team effort on a lot of fronts, with open lines of communication right away.”
Unlike most other emerging chains, Rush Bowls is not focusing its growth on a narrow geographic area, deciding instead to take on the entire country. They key to succeeding with that strategy, Pudalov said, is having a solid distribution network in place.
“It’s certainly much hard to do it on a national basis,” he said, adding that the pandemic has created many supply chain disruptions. “It’s going to get harder before it gets easier. There’s certainly more struggles every day.”