Fast-Casual Chain Restaurants: Cashing in on the Trend

We all know of national restaurant chains. The fast-food side of the sector includes McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. The sit-down side also includes household names like Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and Chili’s. But where do emergent chains such as Chipotle, Noodles & Company, and Five Guys Burgers & Fries fit in? Are they considered fast-food or sit-down restaurants? The answer is neither; these rapid growth franchises are considered part of the surging fast-casual category of chain restaurants.

Fast-casual chain restaurants offer quickly prepared, customizable meals that are slightly healthier and more expensive than traditional fast food. This approach seems to have found customers’ sweet spot, pulling them away from the more traditional fast-food and sit-down restaurants.

Case Study: Jersey Mike’s

Subway is the world’s largest fast-food chain but that has not kept it immune from the rise of fast-casual franchises. U.S. sales at Subway have fallen three and a half percent. The problem is not that Americans are eating less sandwiches, it’s that they are spurning fast-food options in favor of proliferating fast-casual options like Jimmy John’s, Firehouse Subs, and Jersey Mike’s (which has been named the fastest-growing chain in America by Nation’s Restaurant News for three straight years).

Seasoned fast-food franchise owners, like Jim Denburg, have taken notice of the trend and are strategically taking advantage of shifting consumer preferences. For two decades Denburg owned nearly a dozen Domino’s Pizzas, but in 2011 he sold them all. He is now working with Jersey Mike’s and is opening the first of five storefronts planned for the Long Island suburbs.

Nationwide, entrepreneurs are cashing in on fast-casual restaurants. Jersey Mike’s has doubled their number of stores in the last three years, opening well over 700 new locations. But owning, opening, and operating a location of a franchised restaurant is not a simple investment. It takes savvy business strategy, industry experience, and legal expertise. Unique laws regulate franchises, which is why chain owners turn to experienced attorneys who help navigate them to success.


John Saunders helped launch the start up toy company YOXO in 2012 and spent 3 years as in-house counsel for a multi-unit franchisee of 55 Wendy’s in Minnesota and Wisconsin and almost 30 Fannie May Chocolate locations throughout the Midwest.