The “wow” factor is what sets The Alicart Restaurant Group’s properties apart. From a family-style plate of spaghetti with meatballs the size of softballs to barbecue cooked all night and day in massive smokers, what keeps the restaurants unique is that jaw-dropping reaction from diners.

Inspiration comes to us in many different ways: a bird inspiring us to build a contraption to fly, a falling apple uncovering the science behind gravity, the astounding power of a summer storm to garner the electricity to  light up our lives. For Jeff Sinelli, who founded Which Wich in 2003 in Dallas, inspiration came in the form of a brown paper lunch bag.

Pacífico Heras started his first restaurant in 1988 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, offering Northern Mexican food with some influence from his native Sinaloa, on the Pacific Coast. Heras wanted to offer high-quality food in a relaxed, convenient atmosphere at reasonable prices.

Andy Fung and Hon Long Siu worked at Panda Express as executive chef and director of operations, respectively, in the 1980s and ’90s. Having more than 40 years of experience in the restaurant business, they decided to venture on their own, and took their culinary and management experience and opened the first Rice Garden in Long Beach, Calif., in 1994. The partners wanted to bring freshness and quality to Chinese food in a convenient, economic and quick way. Today, Rice Garden covers nine states with 38 locations and the company plans to continue growing and expanding.

If it’s Tuesday, it must be the American Heart Association, the Am-erican Cancer Society, a local charity – or all of the above, and more – that is being helped by one of the 33 Greene Turtle casual dining restaurants/sports bars. As part of the popular Maryland-based chain’s Funds for Friends program, individual restaurants team up with local organizations or local branches of national organizations, select a specific benefit date and donate 10 percent of that day’s total sales to the organization in exchange for the organization having encouraged members, friends and family to patronize the location on that date. The Greene Turtle has donated more than $1 million since the program’s inception to help more than 500 local organizations and community partners.

In the Horatio Alger stories, the hero would work his way up from dishwasher to owner of the restaurant. Carl Ferland did that literally and now has a high-flying career overseeing the operation of his 48 Denny’s restaurants throughout six southern states.

Becoming a successful Mexican restaurant chain in Texas is no small feat with competition on every corner. But Houston-based Berryhill Baja Grill has a unique story and a first-class menu that has helped this restaurant chain and its Baja-style, south-of-the-border menu become a local tradition. Recently, the chain has gone international and is drumming up excitement in neighboring states.

To turn around a moribund brand, it takes an unwavering commitment to breathe new life into the once-successful concept. However, President and CEO Paul Mangiamele doesn’t intend to turn around the fortunes of only his company, Bennigan’s Franchising Co. Instead, he says Bennigan’s is on the cusp of revitalizing the casual-dining category, raising the bar for the Irish-inspired brand as well as its competition throughout the United States.

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