When DBMC Rest­au­r­ants LLC purchased Santé Fe Cattle Co., they brought in John Lush as president. Lush knew the competition in the casual-dining category would be fierce given the current economic and competitive environment. Everyone hopes to catch the next big wave in food trends and the atmosphere and value pricing that will make them the destination of choice for demographics of all ages, income brackets and family sizes. 

A restaurant franchise founded out of a simple need for a healthier lunch option is continuing to expand. Roly Poly founders Linda Wolf and Julie Reid conceived the idea for the restaurant in 1996, when the two were looking for a quick and nutritious lunch option. With the usual options of hamburgers, fried chicken or overstuffed submarine sandwiches out of the question, they decided to make their own mark on the traditional sandwich, the company says.

For Nick Di Donato, working in the restaurant business started as a means to an end: Make some money, pay for school. He did just that, but after several years as an engineer, he went into the restaurant business again. Only this time, he partnered with his brother, Pat Di Donato. For Pat, who boasts 30 years of experience in the industry, working in hospitality was always the goal.

Leo’s Coney Island is a full-service restaurant offering a complete menu of tasty American and Greek cuisine. It serves a variety of tasty appetizers, salads, soups, burgers and sandwiches, but it is known for its Coney Island hot dog topped with its special chili. There are several restaurant chains that call themselves “Coney Island.” Although they all serve similar fare, Leo’s sets itself apart by offering quick, friendly service, fresh ingredients and regional favorites.

Brewing its own beer is a unique way for a restaurant to draw a following. Great food made fresh on location can bring in repeat customers. Finding a way to do both consistently can create a winning combination, and that’s just what Granite City Food and Brewery has done. Granite City is a polished, casual dining restaurant with a focus on hospitality, generous portions of great food and its own handcrafted, uniquely styled micro-brewed beers.

When customers dine at Oregano’s Pizza Bistro, they get more than a meal – they get an authentic family based Italian dining experience. “If there’s one underlying component or point of identification to our experience, it is that it’s sincere and authentic,” CEO Christopher Thomas says of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based restaurant group. “We’re not just going through the motions; there’s a heartfelt feeling from each one of us that we truly care about our guests.”

Some concepts are so simple they hardly need any tweaking to be successful. Take, for example, West Coast icon Hot Dog on a Stick, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year with the same basic concept developed by founder Dave Barham and introduced on the beaches of Santa Monica, Calif. Executive Vice President Laurie Sonia says this consistency has been one of the keys to the company’s longevity and status as one of California’s most beloved  chains. 

‘We all scream for ice cream.” How true that is, as everyone knows ice cream’s power to bring people together. As owner and president of long-time Oakland, Calif.-based ice cream parlor and restaurant Fentons Creamery, Scott Whidden sees that connection made every single day. He says ice cream is more than a dessert or an occasional indulgence – it’s a bridge that spans the gap between childhood and maturity. For example, Whidden recalls a recent day at a Fentons Creamery location when it hosted two separate birthday parties. One of them was for a 90-year-old woman.

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