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10 Chain Innovators to Watch

The restaurant industry is nothing if not indomitable when it comes to innovation. Maybe it's a new twist on an existing concept, a new production system or a new way to enhance the guest experience. It might be new technologies to speed service, a steady stream of craveable LTOs or even a whole new category-creating concept. There's always something new, something hot, something unique that someone — whether old pro or eager young entrepreneur — cooks up to keep things deliciously fresh and interesting.

10 Chain InnovatorsThe chains profiled on the following pages are shining examples of disruptive forces at work in the industry. From frozen superfruit concoctions to pizza in a cone, from ethnic street food to contemporary barbecue and swanky, female-friendly steakhouses, these concepts prove that innovation in the industry is alive and well. Many are relatively new or have just recently gained traction through franchising or infusions of private equity. One just cut the ribbon on the first of what its founder — the same innovator who a quarter-century ago co-founded the Boston Market chain — says will be many more units to come.

Most of the 10 are fast-casual operations taking cues from the segment that has resonated so well with today's consumers and giving it creative new twists. Chocolate anyone? How about vegan cuisine? Others rock QSR, casual-dining and fine-dining segments with dramatically different products as well as fresh variations on familiar themes. Some celebrate American culinary traditions, while the inspiration for others hails from as far away as Italy and Germany and introduce terms like piada and döner to the American culinary lexicon.

Regardless of concept, all of our featured chains' leaders share unabashed excitement about what they've cooked up to deliver fresh, relevant dining experiences to consumers with an insatiable appetite for them. Read on to learn what all the excitement's about.

Bowl of Heaven

KONO Pizza

Max Brenner Chocolate Bar

Melt Bar and Grilled

Native Foods Cafe

PIADA Italian Street Food

Slater’s 50/50

SlowBones Modern BBQ