Growth Chains: Woe is Who?

These eight chains have primed the pump for growth. Find out how.

For a lot of reasons, there's not a lot of optimism about the prospects for impressive restaurant sales growth in the year or two ahead. Rumblings of restaurant recession rooted in the reality of disappointing earnings, sharply rising operating costs and increased pressure on discretionary spending grew louder as 2016 wound down. Add indirect hits to consumer confidence from a government in transition, festering social unrest and acts of terror around the world, and those rumblings rise to the level of dull roar in some quarters.

But sift through the prognostications of doom and gloom, and you're bound to find some bright spots. We did.

We invite you to share the positive, optimistic growth stories of eight restaurant companies on the following pages. Their concepts are as different from one another as could be: They range from a freshly funded vegan chain tapping growing demand for plant-based foods to a culture-obsessed coffee specialist paving a unique path to growth; from a Canadian QSR out to prove the power of poutine to a better-breakfast brand slinging fresh lobster and wine along with eggs and hash browns.

All have spent the past couple of years making strategic moves to strengthen their positions and prime their pumps for growth. Saladworks, for instance, worked to rebrand, refresh and leverage new technologies; Lenny's Grill & Subs debuted a new prototype and nudged its model closer to modern fast-casual than traditional QSR; and Chronic Tacos refined its design, its systems and its branding before embarking on a franchising drive that now has it growing from the West Coast to the East Coast.

Paris Baguette, a French-inspired bakery/cafe that landed in the U.S. by way of Seoul, South Korea, took its time proving its concept in some of the toughest U.S. markets before transitioning from corporate-only growth to franchising. With 50 U.S. units open and 300 planned by 2020, they're poised to take the country by storm.

These chains aren't the biggest out there or necessarily the fastest growing. But each one, at this point in its individual history, is achieving what's proving so elusive for so many others right now — impressive sales and unit growth. They do it by staying nimble, listening to their customers, and remaining relentlessly focused on creating true and meaningful points of differentiation.

Restaurant recession? Sure, it's tough out there. and there's a lot of uncertainty. But there's a lot of optimism, too. Just ask these guys.