D.C. Fast-Casual Food Players in Expansion Mode

As consumers demand better ingredients and turn their back on fast-food restaurants, we want to highlight a few D.C.-based favorites that have the ability to change the way we  – and possibly the rest of America eat.

Cava Grill

No. of Locations: (2)

In the Works: (3) Tenleytown | Merrifield | Columbia Heights

Beyond our Borders: Looking to expand beyond DC (not immediately)

Franchise: Would like to retain 100% control of food and brand

“With Cava Grill, we have worked to offer this premium food, that has a naturally healthy profile, to time conscience, health conscience, and budget conscience consumers. We have a zero waste program/all our disposable materials are composted, we use reclaimed wood in our mill work, led lighting etc), an inviting atmosphere, and dedicated crew has appealed to and aligned with our customers’ lifestyle attributes.”

Taylor Gourmet

No. of Locations: (4)

In the Works: (2) Dupont | Merrifield

Beyond our Borders: Possible expansion on the east coast in the future

Franchise: Not interested in the franchise model right now, want to keep organic growth

Attributes of Success: Quality ingredients, consistent product, good vibe in shops and most of all, everyone has fun at work

ShopHouse Asian Kitchen

Chipotle’s Asian sister is being tested in our own backyard with much hope invested in the concept. One day, it could be as a big as Chipotle and the business community will be watching developments closely as company stock continues to soar.

No. of Locations: (1)

In the Works: (1) Georgetown

Beyond our Borders: If successful in D.C., a national expansion is likely to follow

Franchise: No

Elevation Burger

As the country’s premiere organic burger chain, Elevation is giving us reasons to love a simple and tasty burger.

No. of Locations: Too many to count

In The Works: Unknown

Beyond our Borders: Outlets are already open in states such as Florida, California, Texas and New-York.

Franchise: Yes

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Photo Credit: Cava PR / Taylor PR

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Ah, But Underneath

Since 2003, McDonald’s has been on a mission to win back customers. It has spruced up its dowdy stores, expanded a predictable menu, and delivered a catchy ad campaign –  parapapapa. The result? Shares are hovering at an all-time high – during a period when the global economy is flirting with the possibility of another recession.

But the start of 2012 has not gone well for the Illinois-based company. A botched social media campaign ended up with the hashtag McFail. And this week, McDonald’s announced it would remove ammonium hydroxide or “pink slime” from its recipes in the U.S. It’s a victory for the company’s critics and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver who lobbied for its removal.

Oliver has praised the U.K-arm of McDonald’s which uses free-range eggs and organic dairy in some items.  The U.K. business operates on a different business model than it’s U.S. counterpart. Come to think of it, most countries where McDonald’s does business operate on a different platform. Japan. India. Germany. Australia. NPR wrote a perfect and so aptly titled piece – “Why McDonald’s In France Doesn’t Feel Like Fast Food.” Gee golly, I wonder why? Well, ladies and gentlemen, the key element between markets are the consumers and their expectations.

As Americans, we tend to play catch-up with the rest of the world on some critical issues. But society is often a reflection of itself and what we expect. For the last decade, our standards have been in the gutter when it comes to food quality. We want food to be fast and cheap – no questions asked. Didn’t I say no questions? I said no questions. Period. But slow change is arriving in the form of fast-casual restaurants. The quintessential example of fast-casual is Chipotle. Fast-casual eateries offer better food and a more pleasant dining experience than fast-food, but are cheaper than full-fledged restaurants. This segment of the dining industry has grown at an astronomical rate. We can thank Chipotle for making us Yanks aspire to eating better quality food and thus offer to you this quote by CEO Steve Ells via Fast Casual – “The food culture in Europe is based on local, sustainable and artisanal foods, which are all core values of Chipotle and we have been instrumental in bringing this kind of thinking to fast food in the U.S.”

Photo Credit: Thaddeus Briner/Architectural Outfit