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Cava, Bartaco, True Food Kitchen rank as top emerging brands: Fishbowl report

Fishbowl releases Emerging Brands 2019 rankings

Cava Grill, Bartaco, and True Food Kitchen were top chains in the Fishbowl Emerging Brands 2019 report. Fishbowl’s annual rankings examine and measure sentiment for restaurant industry chains that had five to 75 units at the time it developed its analysis. Cava rose from the #10 spot last year to be the top chain this year. And True Food Kitchen slipped to #3 from the top spot in 2018. These chains show strong potential for innovation and differentiation, says Fishbowl, adding that it used rich data to develop its results.

This rich data in the Fishbowl Emerging Brands 2019 report included survey analytics to garner nominations from industry experts, food enthusiasts, restaurant industry executives, advisors and thought leaders. Media was another big part of the analysis. The Alexandria-based marketing and analytics solution provider also employed its proprietary data software to dive deep into more structured reviews, check-ins and ratings. Fishbowl also uses its Social Score to uncover performance indicators to help it rank chains across social media platforms.

Emerging Brands 2019 summary, methodology

The remainder of the top ten brands were reported as Dig Inn, Mendocino Farms, Urban Plates, Lemonade, The Little Beet, Bibibop Asian Grill, and Punch Bowl Social. Dig Inn is a farm-to-table restaurant concept. The 26-unit chain operates restaurants in Boston, Brooklyn, New York City and Rye Brook, N.Y. Mendocino Farms was started and developed in Los Angeles. Its online profile currently lists 30 units open in California and Texas. “Eating happy and serving “remarkable sandwiches” is at the heart of the Mendocino Farms story.

To develop the top overall rankings, Fishbowl used a proprietary composite score based on the following factors, presented here in its own words: “

  • sentiment score, derived from the mining and analysis of consumer feedback;
  • consumer ratings across multiple social media platforms;
  • frequency measures from ratings and check-ins per location;
  • enthusiasm Index, based on the number of ‘buzz phrases’ (highly charged, positive emotional responses) expressed in collected text; and
  • growth score, based on recent or expected expansion of unit count.”

Top restaurant chains per Fishbowl report

Here’s the full list of the 30 top emerging brands:

  • Cava Grill
  • Bartaco
  • True Food Kitchen
  • Dig Inn
  • Mendocino Farms
  • Urban Plates
  • Lemonade
  • The Little Beet
  • Bibibop Asian Grill
  • Punch Bowl Social
  • Hattie Bs Hot Chicken
  • Jollibee
  • The Simple Greek
  • East Hampton Sandwich Co.
  • Grabbagreen
  • The Halal Guys
  • Homegrown Sandwiches
  • Wagamama
  • Kura Revolving Sushi Bar
  • Super Duper Burgers
  • Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas
  • Belcampo Meat Co
  • Kekes Breakfast Cafe
  • Hook Burger
  • Mi Concina Tex Mex
  • Tupelo Honey
  • Burger Boss
  • Dish Society
  • Village Tavern
  • Rock and Brews

Emerging Brands fast-casual segment results

The Fishbowl Emerging Brands 2019 report cuts across four main restaurant industry segments: fast casual, polished casual, casual dine and QSR (quick-service restaurants). Individual mentions in review data have a lasting impression. For example, with Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, “the conveyor belt (of revolving sushi) at our emerging brand, Kura Revolving Sushi Bar, is one of the most often mentioned phrases in all of the reviews captured for this analysis and the top mention for fast-casual brands. Customers also rave about Kura’s quality food is worth the wait time.” Cava is called out for “fast and fresh food” and also “friendly staff.”

Fishbowl developed this top list of mentions in fast casual:

  • conveyor belt
  • revolving sushi
  • urban plates
  • mendocino farms
  • staff friendly
  • chicken sandwich
  • quality food
  • fast food
  • food fresh
  • miso soup
  • my favorite
  • mac cheese
  • sushi bar
  • gluten free
  • wait time

Here are the chains that represent the fast-casual segment, according to the Emerging Brands 2019 report:

  • Urban Plates
  • Bibibop Asian Grill
  • Kura Revolving Sushi Bar
  • Burger Boss
  • Hook Burger
  • Belcampo Meat Co
  • Grabbagreen
  • Lemonade
  • Mendocino Farms
  • The Little Beet
  • Hattie Bs Hot Chicken
  • Cava Grill
  • The Halal Guys
  • The Simple Greek
  • East Hampton Sandwich

Fishbowl polished casual results

Polished casual chains are another hot concept restaurant chain segment. According to Fishbowl, here, consumers care about what tastes good and dietary preferences. Also, “consumers provide rave reviews for unique menu items but are also drawn to traditional comfort food done well,” says the report. Consequently, sweet potatoes mentions increased from 2018 to 2019 among polished casual and casual-dine brands, including regarding foods at True Food Kitchen.

In fact, menu items from True Food Kitchen and Eureka rose prominently in mentions. Dishes, including True Food Kitchen’s Ancient Grains Bowls and Edamame Dumplings, and also Eureka’s prized Mac n Cheese Balls, were big hits. Additionally, healthy food and gluten-free items are a draw for polished casual chains and should win favor with guests. Here are the emerging chains that represent the polished-casual segment in the report:

True Food Kitchen is the #3 top-ranked restaurant concept in Fishbowl Emerging Brands 2019 report.
True Food Kitchen is the #3 top-ranked restaurant concept in Fishbowl’s Emerging Brands 2019 report. Photo by True Food Kitchen.
  • True Food Kitchen
  • Wagamama
  • Eureka
  • Village Tavern

As an added insight, Fishbowl says polished-casual chains ranked highest among many factors, but specific chains rose in rankings among key attributes. For food positive scores, The Little Beet (41.8), Dig Inn (38.8) and True Food Kitchen (38.8) ranked the highest. For service positive, Punch Bowl Social (28.9), Lemonade (27.4) and Dig Inn (27.2) ranked at the top. In terms of ambiance positive, it’s not surprising that Punch Bowl Social (31.5) and Bartaco (24.3) ranked highest. Bartaco(9.6), Bibibop Asian Grill (8.8) and Lemonade (7.7) ranked highest in price positive scoring. Among beverage positive scores, the same three chains also ranked highest: Bibibop (11.3), Lemonade (8.5) and Bartaco (8.3) were at the top.

[Related article: Cava finalizes acquisition of Zoe’s Kitchen]

Fishbowl conclusions

Fishbowl’s Emerging Brands 2019 rankings note that Cava, the top chain on the report, is seeing its inclusion for the last time. The D.C.-based chain has developed and now operates over 76 namesake units. (Also, it acquired competitor Zoe’s Kitchen in November, giving it over 330 restaurants in total.) Cava was founded in Rockville, Md. as a spin-off of Cava Mezze, a fine-dining Greek restaurant. Fishbowl developed this sentiment summary for Cava: “Cava Grill fans describe this fast casual food as ‘like Chipotle’ in reference to the ability to customize meals. They love the Mediterranean food, from lamb meatballs and spicy/braised lamb to greens, grains, crazy feta and pepper hummus. In addition to the food, reviewers rave about the customer service and the staff.”

Bartaco, ranked #2 on the report, is a hip, beach-themed concept that is associated with Southern California and the Atlantic beaches of South America. Also, it forms half of Barteca Group and has been a focus of energetic debate between Barteca’s owner, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, and an activist investor, Engaged Capital. If the concept is allowed to grow organically, there is a lot of runway there for expansion. Here is the Emerging Brands sentiment summary for Bartaco: “Bartaco reviewers discuss the great customer service and delicious food – from pork belly, rock shrimp, duck and fish tacos to corn, cucumber salad and rice bowls. Fans highly recommend Bartaco and will definitely return.”

[Related article: Del Frisco’s cooperates with activist investor]

True Food Kitchen, the #3 top-ranked chain, was founded in 2008 and has 23 restaurants, according to Fishbowl. The polished-casual chain gained notoriety this year after Oprah Winfrey agreed to invest a stake in the chain. The undisclosed equity investment in July will further the chain’s growth. True Food Kitchen earned this sentiment summary: “True Food Kitchen inspires conversations about the menu – naming a wide variety of gluten free, vegan and vegetarian fare, in addition to grass-fed beef entrees that they highly recommend. Edamame dumplings, kale salad, quinoa burgers, pad thai and even chocolate cake top the list of mentions.”

Navigate to Fishbowl’s website for additional rankings and insights in the full Emerging Brands 2019 report.

Photo credit: Bartaco (featured); True Food, Bibibop, Cava, Mendocino Farms (inline gallery), True Food Kitchen (inline photo)

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