For the last few months The Connect Group has been helping Chef Marc Forgione open Lobster Press at the new Oculus in the World Trade Center.  This will be our second location of Marc’s fast casual concept and it’s just one example of many strong chef-driven fast casual concepts, a trend that’s quickly on the rise. Our society’s obsession with all things epicurean has become more than a fad, it’s a part of our everyday lives. And so it’s a no-brainer for chefs and restaurateurs to concentrate on opening concepts that provide accessible, yet still high-quality, food to the masses.

Fine-dining restaurants receive the awards and the accolades but fast casual is the best category to scale because it reaches the most people. What Danny Meyer started as a burger stand in a Manhattan park has grown to 100 locations nationwide. Chicago Celebrity Chef Rick Bayless has Xoco, Tortas Frontera, and Frontera Fresco. “Top Chef” alums Richard Blais and Spike Mendelsohn have FLIP Burgers and Good Stuff Eatery, respectively. And even highly-respected groundbreaking Chef Jose Andres has his successfully healthy fast casual concept, Beefsteak. It’s about creating a new, exciting food at a lower price point. People want an acclaimed Chef’s food for under $20 but, with the explosion of “foodie” culture and people expanding their culinary horizons, they expect something more than a turkey sandwich, plain burrito or typical cheeseburger. It’s not only that fast casual concepts have the potential to reach more people but also more (and different) locations: airports, food halls, shopping malls, transportation centers, etc.

When the National Restaurant Association released it’s annual list of menu trends for 2016, chef-driven fast-casual concepts nabbed the #2 spot. With sales at fast-casual restaurants growing 11 percent in 2013 with total sales of over $173.8 billion dollars, this is not a trend I see dying down anytime soon and I’m excited to see what other concepts some of my favorite chefs will come up with.

Great articles on the rise of the chef-driven fast-casual concepts:

“Why Fine Dining Chefs Are Getting into the Chain Game” – Eater

“2016: Year of the Chef” – QSR Magazine

- Cassandre Pallas