In November 2021, FSR introduced “NextGen Casual,” an emerging segment of full-service dining that promises to transform the category as the industry continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. While spurred by the virus’ disruption, NextGen Casual was a movement gaining traction well before 2020. It’s the intersection of experience and convenience, and recognizes brands with a renewed focus on technology, localization, company culture, responsible sourcing, and a commitment to differentiation that appeals to multiple generations.
“For me, the progressive nature of the NextGen Casual segment means there’s always a new idea to learn from these restaurant leaders, whether it’s about engineering a menu for ease of execution or creating upward mobility for team members,” says Callie Evergreen, editor of FSR. “The key here is finding a way to make casual dining relevant for current and future diners by focusing on the hospitality experience, yet still making convenience and off-premises accessibility a priority. From the buzz around experiential and eatertainment brands to elevated menus using seasonal and local ingredients, the full-service sector is poised for many more exciting changes in the next year.”
FSR is introducing its second class of NextGen Council, a collection of nine industry leaders who will help shape the trends and topics central to the evolving segment.
Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, owner/CEO, The Ginger Brands
A math teacher turned entrepreneur, Ginger Flesher-Sonnier founded an experiential hospitality group which includes brands THRōW Social, Escape Room Live (sold in 2021), Kick Axe Throwing, and coming in 2024, Yacht Club Social. Expansion is slated for Miami, Vegas and LA.
Scott Lawton, CEO, bartaco restaurants
Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, bartaco is an upscale street taco and cocktail concept that has grown to nearly 30 locations since its inception in 2010. In 2019, bartaco was acquired when private equity firm L Catterton purchased Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group.
Cai Palmiter, VP of marketing, JINYA Holdings
Tomo Takahashi initially started the concept in Japan before bringing JINYA stateside to Hollywood, California, in 2010. The authentic Japanese ramen concept has 60 locations with 24 planned to open in 2024.
Geo Concepcion, CEO, The Greene Turtle
The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille is known for its casual, neighborhood atmosphere, burgers, ribs, and its variety of brews. Founded in Maryland in 1976, the sports bar brand has grown across Delaware, Virginia, the District of Columbia, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, with plans to continue growing its footprint throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Brandy Blackwell, VP of marketing, Another Broken Egg Cafe
Another Broken Egg Café is one of the fastest-growing, franchised breakfast and brunch concepts in the nation, with 95 locations—nearly 20 of which opened in 2023—and more in development, part of its “Road to 100” plan for 2024.
Christine Lorusso, senior director of digital marketing, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Firebirds is a polished steakhouse concept specializing in wood-fired steaks, seafood, craft cocktails, and more. Founded in 2000, Firebirds has grown to nearly 60 locations across 20 states. The brand was acquired by private equity firm Garnett Station Partners in March 2023.
Greg Graber, CEO, Heritage Restaurant Brands
Heritage Restaurant Brands is the franchisor of nearly 50 restaurants with concepts including Cool Hand Luke’s, a steakhouse/saloon; Perko’s Cafe Grill, which serves American family comfort food; and Huckleberry’s, a breakfast and lunch concept that serves up “Southern cookin’ with a California twist.”
Jeremy Edmonds, VP of people and culture, Snooze, an AM Eatery
The Denver, Colorado-based brunch concept was founded in 2006 and has rapidly grown its footprint to more than 60 locations throughout the U.S., with several more in development.
Randy Sharpe, president and CEO, Xperience Restaurant Group
Xperience Restaurant Group owns and operates 11 branded concepts with nearly 80 locations, including El Torito, Chevys Fresh Mex, SOL Mexican Cocina, Las Brisas, solita Tacos & Margaritas, Cal Mex Cantina, Sinigual, Acapulco, Who Song and Larry’s, Rio Mambo, and THE RIM Scratch Craft Eats.
“We’re honored to welcome such a knowledgeable group in our second class of FSR’s NextGen Casual Council,” Evergreen says. “These operators not only endured the pandemic but also discovered innovative strategies to come out more resilient. They understand the intricacies of today’s restaurant customer and the preparation needed for future challenges. We’re excited to receive their insights and work towards building a supportive and collaborative full-service community.”
FSR magazine plans to feature a new group of operators each year on the NextGen Council. See last year’s class here.
This follows the announcement of FSR’s second-ever NextGen Restaurant Summit, a conference for NextGen emerging full-service restaurant brands, set for September 4-5, 2024 in Atlanta. This also follows the publication of FSR magazine’s NextGen 25, which covered restaurants comprising the category, from one to nearly 100 locations.
About FSR magazine
FSR magazine is an industry leading publication for chefs, owners, executives, and decision-makers in the full-service restaurant industry. Along with sister publication QSR, FSR is part of WTWH Media, an integrated b2b media company. To learn more about FSR magazine, please visit the FSR website at www.fsrmagazine.com.