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.

Annual banquets and award ceremonies are staples of most companies, but for Encanto Restaurants Inc., employee recognition is a daily occurrence. “What differentiates us is a culture of recognition,” CEO José Ribas says of the Puerto Rico-based quick-service restaurant franchisee. “It’s not uncommon to walk into our restaurant support center and see one employee publicly recognize another for a specific act, and tell them in front of their peers about why what they did is deserving of recognition.”

Although there is an abundance of sandwich shops populating the island of Puerto Rico, there is only one that’s clearly Puerto Rican: El Meson Sandwiches. The Mayaguez, Puerto Rico-based company puts the Caribbean mark on its toasted deli subs with its trademark sweet and sour sauce, which President Felipe Perez describes as a bold, distinctly Latino flavor. “That makes it a totally different sandwich,” he asserts.  

After 17 years, Panchero’s Mexican Grill has gained a loyal following for its fresh pressed tortillas, President Rodney Anderson says. “When you start with a fresh tortilla, there’s nothing better,” he says. “We press [a tortilla] for each and every customer, and each and every order.”

When the Portland Trail Blazers take to the court at the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Ore., another team goes to work on ensuring the NBA team’s fans leave with satisfied appetites.

If you’ll excuse the expression, HuHot Mongolian Grill has been spreading like a wildfire set by invading Mongolians. The restaurant company began in Missoula, Mont., in 1999 and has sprouted up in locations throughout Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kansas. 

Randy Brooks, president and CEO of Cool Hand Luke’s Steakhouse, calls himself a “restaurant brat” since he grew up in the restaurant business. His father, Chick, developed more than 20 concept restaurants. “I’ve worked in restaurants since I was 10,” Brooks says. “I’ve been a busboy, manager and driven delivery trucks. I’ve done it all.”

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