Sampling four menus from around the globe
Curry Up Now
The concept: In very Bay Area fashion, founder Akash Kapoor wrapped the flavors of Indian street food in a burrito and immediately found a following for his Curry Up Now food truck. “It was an instant success. One truck became two, then three and we opened our first restaurant, and people kept coming,” said Kapoor. The restaurants also sell bowls and platters. Given its food truck heritage, Curry Up Now is also known for Indian-inspired classics including spicy wings, tacos, crosscut fries and fish and chips. Kapoor said the concept is both inviting and adventurous, giving customers an approachable meal and authentic taste of Indian street food.
The stats: Curry Up Now has six brick-and-mortar restaurants and three food trucks, all company operated. The brand has 50 franchised locations in development across the country. The initial investment is between $341,200 and $950,800, with the AUV reaching $1.3 million out of a 1,500-square-foot design.
The competition: There is a handful of emerging Indian “Chipotle-esque models,” as Kapoor called them. But he said they are “more fast food than fast casual.” He said in the Indian category, Curry Up Now stands alone because of “the innovation and the sexiness that is our brand and food.”
The challenge: When most people think of Indian food, they think of spicy curry, a side of rice and a pile of naan bread. Kapoor said he’s taking a different approach, but with “curry” right in the name, it’s tricky to help people get over their Indian assumptions. “To me, the biggest challenge is to be taken seriously, to be seen,” said Kapoor.
Naf Naf Middle Eastern Grill
The concept: It’s not Mediterranean, it’s Middle Eastern, says CEO Paul Damico, and he says it a lot. Naf Naf Grill pushes that message across the concept. There’s even a camel in the logo. All that, along with some unique menu items and eschewing some of the mainstays, helps it stand out in an ever-growing ethnic food segment. “You’re not going to see feta cheese or olives,” said Damico. Co-founder Sahar Sander, who died earlier this year, built the menu using insights from his childhood in Israel.
The stats: Naf Naf Grill just started franchising in 2017, so there isn’t a lot of data out there for the performance of the 2,500-square-foot restaurants. But Damico said the restaurants have a $13 ticket average and do about 40 percent takeout, which is a big reason they just launched a delivery program with DoorDash that covers all 38 company restaurants.
The competition: Because the brand is so focused on being expressly not Mediterranean, there’s not a lot of direct competition. But, of course, they say that because the concept gets lumped under the broad “pita and bowl” umbrella, they’re competing with independent delis and gyro shops and other emerging concepts with similar menus.
The challenge: “Naf Naf’s biggest challenge is brand awareness,” said Damico. “As a growing ethnic brand, we need to get into the dining consideration set and entice consumers to try our food that is, for most people, new to them.” That and the Middle Eastern refrain are key to helping the concept to differentiate itself.
The concept: A Fourth of July barbecue became the first business meeting for a runaway ethnic success out of Miami. What began as a conversation between cousins Otto Othman and Nedal Ahmad about starting a restaurant evolved into the real thing. At the core of the menu are pinchos, a South American street food the cousins grew up with. The initial recipe came from Othman’s mother. Essentially, it’s a spicy kabob that customers put in either a bowl, a wrap or on a salad. And for the less adventurous crowd, the brothers are building on Nedal’s burger recipe with unique, monthly burgers.
The stats: There are 10 locations in Florida, six company owned and three franchised. The investment ranges from $461,055 to $653,500 and brings in sales of $1.5 million out of a 1,800- to 2,500-square-foot buildout. The restaurants have a strong bar program, with alcohol reaching 10 percent of sales at some spots.
The competition: In Miami and across South Florida, there are a lot of South American eateries, but few have the bar program Pincho Factory does. On the burger side of the menu, the company competes with all the better burger concepts out there but with an all-scratch kitchen as a differentiator.
The challenge: CEO Jayson Tipp, who joined the company in 2018, said it’s the same challenge all small concepts have. “In a word: scaling,” said Tipp. “There are so many dimensions to that given our size and balance sheet. At our size the stakes of making mistakes, losing focus, or to getting side-tracked on activities that don’t create value are much greater.”
The concept: For an emerging concept, Mamoun’s Falafel has been around for a while, starting in 1971 in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Hussam Chater, who is a partner in the business with his brothers, said his father started it as a means to feed his family. Since then, it hasn’t changed much, serving Mediterranean and Middle Eastern classics like pita pocket sandwiches, hummus, tabbouleh and baba ganouj. The brothers decided to franchise in 2018.
The stats: The brothers operate nine locations mostly across the New York metro area, with franchise units in New Jersey and Dallas, Texas. It also has a six-unit agreement in Georgia. The investment range is from $632,890 to $1.1 million and restaurants bring in an average of $1.3 million in sales out of a 1,000-square-foot location.
The competition: Chater doesn’t like to name names, but there are a lot of similar brands out there today, from the trendy Cava, which just purchased Zoes, to independent falafel houses and other Mediterranean concepts. But, he says, execution is everything. “To be honest, I know that this day and age that the recipe to our success is focus on our brand mission,” said Chater.
The challenge: While the food is in the brothers’ DNA, all the modern restaurant requirements can be dizzying. “I think the biggest challenge in this day and age is that you have to evolve a lot as a brand,” he says. “Hospitality and service have been key forever, but now you have to get accustomed to the fact that some people don’t want to deal with people.”