04/16/2014 11:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Next Chipotle: 12 Small Chains That Might Someday Dominate the World


CREDIT: Veggie Grill

There are few industries in America as glutted as the chain-restaurant market, but, luckily for fledgling eateries, gluttony loves company.

And while fast-casual restaurants are a dime a dozen, only a few ever expand beyond those dozen stores. So, here are 12 up-and-coming eateries that range from local favorites shying away from the chain label to concepts carefully crafted for worldwide satiation, all of which might one day be as ubiquitous as Chipotle.


CREDIT: Lyfe Kitchen

LYFE Kitchen

Est. 2011, Palo Alto, CA

Number of locations: Four now, six more coming soon

What they do: Quick, healthy food engineered by a pair of Oprah's chefs with an emphasis on efficiency and the latest cooking/POS technology implemented by a former president of McDonald's.

Why they might blow up: It's got New American flair without the pretension, inclusive gluten-free/vegan options, and a former president of McDonald's.


CREDIT: Hopdoddy


Est. 2010, Austin, TX

Number of locations: Four now, three more coming soon

What they do: House-ground, antibiotic-free Black Angus burgers paired with local beers and milkshakes that are totally worth $5.

Why they might blow up: The original location often commands an hour-long wait, showing that there's an immense demand in the burger landscape for a slightly higher price-point with ingredients and creative combinations that warrant the extra bucks.

More: Testing the secret menus at 8 chains, from Chipotle to Shake Shack


CREDIT: Veggie Grill

Veggie Grill

Est. 2007, Irvine, CA

Number of locations: 23

What they do: Plant-based food in meaty clothing

Why they might blow up: It's a guilt-free option for the health conscious who still want their chicken wings, even if they're made of tempeh. And their comfort food menu doesn't scare away meat-eaters.


CREDIT: Protein Bar

Protein Bar

Est. 2011, Chicago, IL

Number of locations: 14 now, seven coming soon

What they do: Quinoa-heavy, grab-and-go health food that halves the calories without sacrificing taste.

Why they might blow up: Their bar-ritos fulfill that Chipotle craving, but won't tempt you to eat two meals worth of carnitas at once.

Find out the other 8 small chains that could be the next Chipotle, including ones that sling potatoes, a kebap spot, and a pizza place -- only on!

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