"Why is there a shortage of healthy fast food?” This is the question that made Nick Kenner and Rob Crespi set on their ambitious quest to open a concept that would offer nutritious, healthy foods in a quick-service environment, at affordable prices while being environmentally conscious.

In 2006, Kenner and Crespi opened their first location at 320 Park Avenue in New York. The young entrepreneurs – Kenner was just 25 when Just Salad took off – had some finance experience but no food industry background, so they enlisted the help of chef Laura Pensiero.

If the United States is a melting pot, then Southern California is in the center of the burner. The region is one of the most ethnically diverse in the world and its dining options reflect it. That is why restaurant developer Innovative Dining Group (IDG) has fully embraced the varying tastes within the City of Angels and its neighbors.

IDG, which began in 1997 with a contemporary sushi bar concept, Sushi Roku, has turned into a company with seven restaurant concepts and 13 locations. Sushi Roku, though different from its other concepts, is the epitome of what IDG strives for with each development. The company describes Sushi Roku as a “unique culinary experience that bridges past and present [and] is the result of an eagerness to embrace new ideas and a profound respect for tradition.”

Ask Michael Whalen, CEO of Heart of America Group, why he got into the restaurant business in 1978, and he’ll explain it mainly was to take a failed restaurant off his lawyer father’s hands. “My dad did some residential development and a little bit of commercial development, and he owned this restaurant building called Yummy’s,” Whalen recalls. “Soon, it became known as Crummy’s, and that guy went broke.”

Whalen’s father couldn’t rent or sell the restaurant that was in an isolated, inconvenient location a short distance from I-80 in Davenport, Iowa, so Whalen – a recent graduate of Harvard University’s law school – offered to open a restaurant there. “I took the bar exam on Monday through Wednesday and opened the restaurant on Friday,” Whalen remembers. “I did pass, by the way.”

Great food is not the only ingredient needed to succeed in the restaurant business in the current economic climate; a strong strategic business plan is mandatory to stay ahead of the competition. To make sure his seven restaurants continue to thrive, Michael Cordúa, co-owner and founder of Cordúa Restaurants, partnered with financial expert Juan Deshon, who became Cordúa’s CFO in April 2011, and since February 2012 is also the company’s COO.

A combination of competitive advantages – a sports emphasis, being family-friendly, serving high quality food and being a great value – are the legs of the table on which Beef ‘O’Brady’s is building its franchised chain of restaurants. “It’s those things coming together that make us very unique,” Chief Development Officer James Walker declares. “We appeal to a wide audience – we appeal to sports fans and families alike.”

Many fast-food restaurant chains use discount promotions to reel in consumers still stinging from the recession. Yoshinoya America Inc. – a Japanese bowl fast-food concept with 1,759 locations in California, Las Vegas and around the world – has taken the opposite approach. Instead, it touts the use of fresh ingredients and its commitment to authentic Japanese meals to bring its customers back.

For thousands of people in Omaha, Neb., and beyond, a hot cup of coffee from Scooter’s Coffee is how the day gets started. As Director of New Business Development Todd Graeve explains, the company wants even more people to start their day with a cup from Scooter’s. Even though the Scooter’s brand competes against some of the most ubiquitous names in the industry, Graeve says the company expects to double in size to more than 200 stores nationwide within the next five years.

At Salty’s Seafood Grills, success is defined by offering world-class seafood, steaks, service and smiles. Through a combination of quality food, location and high-touch service, the Pacific Northwest restaurants have become regional landmarks.

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