Darren Tristano and Lauren Hallow
Some of the United States’ largest restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Applebee’s, conduct a significant amount of business overseas. So what are some of the larger international chains that are enjoying success in the U.S.?
Several global chains are capitalizing on U.S. consumers’ appreciation for authenticity by bringing international fare, such as TOUS les JOURS Korean pastries and 100 Montaditos Spanish sandwiches, to the States. However, these concepts aren’t just offering a taste of their native countries—chains like Maoz Vegetarian and Coffee Culture Café & Eatery offer a different spin on concepts (health-focused eateries and coffee cafés, respectively) already popular in the U.S. Below are ten international chains that have successfully entered the U.S. and are looking to expand stateside:
Who: Founded in Sydney in 2003, Pie Face is an Australian limited-service chain known for its savory pies marked with cartoonish faces. The fun concept also offers a range of sandwiches, wraps, pastries and coffee. In 2012, Pie Face opened its first location outside of Australia in New York City.
U.S. Development: Shortly after Pie Face opened its first site, Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO Steve Wynn invested $15 million into expanding the concept in the U.S., leading Pie Face to launch seven additional units in New York City over the next two years. From 2012 to 2013, Pie Face’s U.S. sales jumped 150% to $5.5 million.
Why it’s worth watching: Pie Face has flourished in New York City thanks to its sweet and savory handhelds and 24-hour service. The concept is an ideal spot for on-the-go urban consumers looking for everything from a sweet breakfast to a convenient lunch to a late-night snack.
Nando’s is a fast-casual chicken chain specializing in Portuguese-style peri peri chicken. Since launching in 1987 in South Africa, Nando’s has expanded to more than 1,000 locations in about two-dozen countries, but it’s especially popular in the U.K. The concept first expanded to the U.S. in 2008 with a unit in Washington, DC.
U.S. Development: Nando’s continued expanding in the Washington, DC, market and now operates 15 units in DC, Virginia and Maryland. From 2012 to 2013, Nando’s opened five locations in the U.S., propelling a nearly 40% increase in U.S. sales to $21.4 million. The chain plans to launch its 16th U.S. location soon in the District’s Tenleytown area.
Why it’s worth watching: Nando’s offers patrons a worldly experience, with Portuguese-style chicken and a mix of Portugal and South African wines served in units decorated with African artwork. The chain also showcases the best qualities of a fast-casual concept—lavish decorations make for an inviting place to dine, while speedy service attracts on-the-go patrons.
Since launching in 1981, Giraffas has become one of the most popular limited-service chains in Brazil with its traditional Brazilian plates along with build-your-own burgers. There, the concept is quick-service, but when it expanded to the U.S. in 2011 with a location in Miami, Giraffas adopted a fast-casual service style and added more American-friendly menu items like pastas and salads.
U.S. Development: Giraffas now operates 10 units in the U.S., all in Florida. From 2012 to 2013, the chain launched five Florida units, helping its U.S. sales to triple to $11.1 million. Giraffas recently sold its U.S. company-owned locations to franchisees to raise funds for additional U.S. expansion. The chain aims to operate 200 U.S. locations by 2020.
Why it’s worth watching: Giraffas successfully mixes authentic Brazilian fare with American-style options. Units offer a different take on the American create-your-own-burger concept with Brazilian picanha steak burgers instead of traditional beef patties.
Inspired by traditional Spanish tapas taverns, 100 Montaditos was founded in Spain in 2000. The chain, whose name translates to “100 Sandwiches,” menus at least 100 varieties of crunchy snack-sized rolls made to order and topped with traditional Spanish ingredients like Serrano ham, chorizo and Manchego cheese. Over the years, 100 Montaditos expanded throughout Spain as well as internationally. In 2011, the chain launched its first U.S. location in Miami.
U.S. Development: Since 2011, 100 Montaditos opened about a dozen more Florida sites as well as launched locations in Iowa, New York and the Washington, DC, market. From 2012 to 2013, the chain more than doubled both its U.S. unit count and sales. 100 Montaditos plans to continue expanding in the U.S., recently announcing plans to launch 28 units in New York City over the next three years, five of them before the end of 2014. 100 Montaditos also has additional Florida and Washington, DC-area locations in the pipeline and is seeking sites in new markets such as Texas.
Why it’s worth watching: With its variety of options, along with an adult beverage menu that includes sangria and Spanish wines, 100 Montaditos offers patrons a chance to experience a traditional Spanish experience in a fun, casual setting. The menu includes something for everyone with sandwiches ranging from traditional Spanish options, like Serrano ham, to American-style choices, like Philly steak, to dessert montaditos, such as hazelnut spread on chocolate bread.
Although it hails from the U.K., Wagamama takes its inspiration from traditional Japanese ramen bars. The casual-dining Asian/noodle chain offers made-to-order ramen and modern Asian fare in a hip, casual setting. In 2007, Wagamama crossed the pond and launched its first U.S. unit in Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
U.S. Development: Thanks to the popularity of its first U.S. location, Wagamama opened its second U.S. site later that year in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. A third location opened in 2009 in Boston’s Prudential Tower. In fall 2013, Wagamama opened its fourth U.S. site—and most suburban location—in Lynnfield, MA. From 2012 to 2013, sales at Wagamama’s U.S. units increased 17.8% to $7.6 million. The chain plans to continue growing in the U.S., with more locations expected to open in the coming years.
Why it’s worth watching: With its large portions of piping-hot ramen along with open kitchens that allow patrons to view their meals being prepared, Wagamama offers customers a taste of the authentic Japanese ramen experience. The contemporary concept is also popular for Millennial-friendly features like fresh juices and complimentary Wi-Fi service at all units.
Another U.K.-based concept, Hakkasan actually comes from the same people who founded Wagamama. The fine-dining chain serves upscale modern Cantonese fare in large, opulently decorated units. Since launching in London in 2001, the concept has expanded to several major international cities; it opened its first U.S. location in Miami in 2009.
U.S. Development: Hakkasan now operates five units in the U.S., including a location in New York City that holds one Michelin star. In 2013, the concept launched two U.S. units—one in Beverly Hills, CA, and a 60,000-square-foot restaurant and nightclub in Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. In January of this year, parent Hakkasan Ltd. acquired in a majority stake in San Diego-based Enlightened Hospitality Group, whose portfolio includes acclaimed concepts Searsucker, which offers new American fare, and Herringbone, which specializes in seafood. The company plans to continue expanding Hakkasan and Enlightened’s brands in the U.S.
Why it’s worth watching: Although the other Asian chains featured in this blog are more casual, Hakkasan proves that Americans are also seeking upscale Asian fare. While all U.S. sites feature a full-service bar and lounge, Hakkasan’s latest U.S. location in Las Vegas was the first to incorporate a nightclub, suggesting the chain could delve more into the nightclub business in the future.
Coffee Culture Café & Eatery
Coffee Culture Café & Eatery is a Canadian quick-service coffee chain. Although grab-and-go options are available, the concept leans toward a more relaxing coffee experience—units are designed to be cozy and inviting, with plush furniture, exposed brick walls, plasma TVs and free Wi-Fi. In 2009, the chain began expanding into the U.S., establishing a U.S. headquarters in Buffalo, NY, for affiliate Coffee Culture New York Inc. and opening units in Williamsville and Ellicottville, NY.
U.S. Development: Over the years, Coffee Culture has continued expanding in New York and has also opened units in new U.S. markets. The chain now operates 13 U.S. locations in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida. Several sites opened in Erie, PA, thanks to a 2010 franchise agreement with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. From 2012 to 2013, sales at Coffee Culture’s U.S. locations increased 28.3% to $5.9 million. At least two more U.S. units are in the pipeline for Amherst, NY, and Miami.
Why it’s worth watching: Coffee Culture differentiates itself from other coffee-café chains by offering patrons a welcoming, unpretentious place to relax, study or work while enjoying an all-day menu of specialty coffee drinks, sandwiches and pastries. Unlike other coffee chains, Coffee Culture serves breakfast fare like bagels and egg sandwiches all day, and also menus a variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads for lunch and dinner.
As its name suggests, Maoz Vegetarian specializes in vegetarian fare with a menu that centers on sandwiches, salads and gluten-free falafel. The Amsterdam-based quick-service concept gained popularity for its simple service style—patrons choose a salad or sandwich for a fixed price, then visit the salad bar to add as many toppings as they choose for no additional cost. In 2004, Maoz launched its first U.S. location in Philadelphia.
U.S. Development: Maoz now operates about a dozen units in the U.S. in Texas, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida, and the chain is seeking additional U.S. franchise opportunities. In addition to growing its unit count, sales have also been up—from 2012 to 2013, sales at its U.S. units increased nearly 10% to $11.1 million.
Why it’s worth watching: Patrons flock to Maoz for its relaxed service approach that allows customers to add their own toppings to their sandwiches and salads instead of charging by weight, like at other salad bar concepts. Another differentiating factor: Maoz gives out doggy bags to patrons who don’t finish their meal, an amenity typically not offered at salad bars.
TOUS les JOURS is a French-Asian bakery café chain. Originating in South Korea, the concept uses high-quality Korean ingredients to make its pastries and breads. The concept’s French and Asian influences are well-represented in its menu, with items that range from French croissants to Korean milk bread to sesame doughnuts. Several years after launching in the late 1990s, TOUS les JOURS began expanding internationally, including to the U.S., where it opened its first stateside location in 2004 in Los Angeles.
U.S. Development: Over the last 10 years, TOUS les JOURS has launched more than two-dozen additional U.S. locations, and now operates nearly 30 sites in California, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Georgia. From 2012 to 2013, the chain opened four units in the U.S. and experienced a 17.9% increase in U.S. sales. TOUS les JOURS plans to open more U.S. locations.
Why it’s worth watching: TOUS les JOURS’ commitment to authenticity and freshness makes it a popular spot for a variety of patrons, from Asian Americans looking for a taste of home to adventure-seeking consumers seeking a different kind of bakery fare.
Max Brenner is a concept specializing in all-things chocolate, from hearty desserts to specialty beverages to fondue. The concept’s roots date back to 1996, when it was a small chocolate shop in Israel. In 2001, it was bought by Israel-based Strauss Group, which developed the concept into a full-service chocolate-focused restaurant and bar. The concept expanded internationally, primarily in Australia. In 2006, Max Brenner’s first U.S. location opened in New York City.
U.S. Development: In addition to the original New York unit, Max Brenner now operates four other sites in the U.S. in Boston; Bethesda, MD; Paramus, NJ; and Philadelphia. The chain announced in April that it was moving toward a fast-casual prototype for its U.S. locations in place of the existing full-service format, saying that the fast-casual model better suits U.S. consumers. The Bethesda and Paramus sites— which opened July 2013 and April 2014, respectively—both feature the new fast-casual model. Max Brenner aims to launch about 200 more units in North America.
Why it’s worth watching: In a time when chains are increasingly becoming more health-minded, Max Brenner stands out for encouraging patrons to enjoy one of America’s favorite indulgences: chocolate. With a hip, modern décor and eye-appealing presentations, the novelty concept comes across as more sophisticated than gimmicky, helping patrons feel a little less guilty about enjoying that chocolate pizza or hot chocolate.
It would be beneficial for U.S. restaurant operators to pay close attention to these global chains and others that are successfully growing their U.S. businesses. With chains making moves to further cement their U.S. business—from Hakkasan acquiring a stake in a San Diego multiconcept operator to Coffee Culture establishing a U.S. headquarters—it’s likely these chains will be competing with U.S. operators for years to come.