FSR Magazine is known for its annual Top 50 Emerging Restaurant Chains annual rankings, out this month.
There are always surprises on the list — maybe the biggest surprise this year is how many of the Top 50 are headquartered in or at least doing business in the Southeast.
The criteria are simple: Each chain must have less than 50 operations — and be awesome. Let’s take a look at the Southeastern stars, where they’re headquartered and what states they operate in here:


HQ: Lubbock, TX
SE STATES: Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

Authentic Tex-Mex cuisine and with family friendly ambiance in 40 units. The chain claims it’s ranked the nation’s top Mexican Restaurant by Consumer Reports every year since 2006. Adding three or more units a year, primarily in existing markets.



Arooga’s Grille House & Sports Bar

HQ: Harrisburg, PA
SE STATES: Florida, Texas

Tech-savvy Arooga’s offers a cardless loyalty program at its 14 locations, with online ordering and catering.

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar

HQ: Lakewood, CO
SE STATES: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee

Two years ago Good Times Restaurants spent $21 million to acquire Bad Daddy’s; there are now 20 locations with eight more scheduled by year’s end and more growth in the future.

Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant

HQ: Norwalk, Connecticut
SE STATES: Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, and DC

Adventurous foodies love this 13-unit wine bar, known for tapas from the Mediterranean region and a robust collection of Spanish-focused wines. And the experience is unique to Each setting is unique, with design elements that capture the identity and culture of local surroundings.

Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant

Blue Sushi Sake Grill

HQ: Omaha, Nebraska
SE STATES: Kentucky, Texas

Only 11 units, but two more are on the way – and who thought you could sell sushi in Nebraska and Kentucky?

Cantina Laredo

HQ: Dallas
SE STATES: Alabama, Texas

A mix of 40, company-owned and franchised locations, Consolidated Restaurant Operations has taken its Tex-Mex brand to 12 states, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. Look for modern versions of traditional Mexican favorites prepared fresh daily.

Carolina Ale House

HQ: Raleigh, NC
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia

LM Restaurants is the parent company of this 30 unit chain, which now extends from the Carolinas across Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant

HQ: Chicago
SE STATES: Florida, Virginia

Great food and award-winning wines at this 28 unit chain — Cooper’s Hawk has won more than 300 local, national, and international wine awards and produces 5 million bottles of its own vintages annually.

Cooper’s Hawk

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House

HQ: Southlake, TX
SE STATES: Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and DC

Del Frisco Restaurant Group is responsible for this gem – if you’ve ever eaten at the original in Dallas, you know why the 13 unit chain is poised for big things. And big checks – the average is $115.

Del Frisco’s Grille

Southlake, Texas
12 states and the District of Columbia

Del Frisco Group’s answer to more=affordable dining, this 24 unit chain is “polished-casual” and brings in an average of $48 per diner.  The varied and inventive menu is aimed at millennials.

Eddie V’s

HQ: Orlando, FL
SE STATES: Florida, Texas, Virginia

A star in the Darden Restaurants chain with 17 units that serve up a night to remember wherever you are.

Famous Toastery

HQ: Huntersville, NC
SE STATES: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia

Breakfast, brunch and lunch are the focus at this 22 unit chain that started in 2005. Signature pairings of booze and brunch are the main draw. Ten new locations are on the way.

Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

HQ: Charlotte, NC
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill

SE STATES: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia

Lone Star Steakhouse founder Dennis Thompson has another hit on his hands with this polished-casual, white table-cloth chain with 45 units. Classic steaks and fish dishes without classic prices.

Breakfast at The Flying Biscuit

Flying Biscuit Café

HQ: Atlanta
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina

How you gonna go wrong selling biscuits in the Southeast? You can’t, as this chain has proved since 1993 and now does at 14 locations.

Fogo de Chão

HQ: Dallas
SE STATES – Florida, Georgia, DC

48 units Fogo de Chão’s development strategy emphasizes market penetration, balanced with new entries into key metropolitan areas in North America. The remaining domestic openings anticipated for 2017 will be in Jacksonville, Florida, and Troy, Michigan. From an international perspective, Fogo anticipates opening joint-venture restaurants in the Middle East. Overall, Fogo has plans to increase the company-owned restaurant count by at least 10 percent annually over the next five years. All U.S. and Brazil locations are company-owned; the locations in Mexico City are joint-venture partnerships.

Granite City Food & Brewery

HQ: St. Cloud, Minnesota
SE STATES: Tennessee

Polished-casual venue’s 36 units have an on-site brewery and an open kitchen where chef-driven dishes are made from scratch. In the 1880s, St. Cloud was home to numerous family breweries that cropped up to quench the thirst of miners working in the granite quarries..

Hickory Tavern

HQ: Charlotte, NC
SE STATES: Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee

ESPN named this 27-unit chain brand runner-up in its Best Sports Bar in North America ranking; menu diversity and innovation are king. Build-your-own salad with a  spotlight on pub fare and seafood.


HQ: Beverly Hills, California
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas

The Hillstone Restaurant Group runs this 16-unit chain, named after the founders; home town. Houston’s name is a nod to the home state of founders George and Carol Biel. Despite opening in 1977 as one of the first polished-casual chains, Houston’s has grown slowly but surely.

Il Fornaio

HQ: Corte Madera, CA
SE STATES: Virginia

This 21-unit chain started as a baking school in Barlassina, Italy, in 1972, opened its first U.S. bakery in 1981 and its first full-service restaurant in 1987. Now owned by Roark Capital Group.

J. Alexander’s

HQ: Nashville, TN
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas

A low table-to-server ratio encourages diners to linger longer at this 19 unit steak chain – the average check is $30.41 per person.

Jonathan’s Grille

HQ: Franklin, TN
SE STATES: Tennessee

Jonathan’s Grille started in 1999 as part upscale restaurant and part casual sports bar. The seven-unit chain is looking to expand outside Tennessee.

Legal Sea Foods

HQ: Boston
SE STATES: Georgia, Virginia, and DC

The chain amazingly launched in 1950; there are now 36 units, many the culinary stars of eight major airports.

Matchbox American Kitchen + Spirit

HQ: Washington, D.C.
SE STATES: Florida, Texas, Virginia, DC

Artisanal pizza in authentic brick ovens in a rustic industrial setting – plus local brews and a focus on hooch in a 11 unit chain. Sustainable practices and local involvement make good neighbors.

Ocean Prime

Ocean Prime

HQ: Columbus, Ohio

SE STATES: Florida and DC

The fine-dining jewel in the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants portfolio, Ocean Prime’s 14 locations are all built to local tastes and décor. Beginning in 2008 and every year since, Ocean Prime has been recognized with a Wine Spectator “Award of Excellence.”

Redlands Grill

HQ: Nashville, TN
SE STATES: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee

This 12-unit chain is a fine-dining staple in the J. Alexander’s portfolio. Look for as many as four new locations before the end of the year.

Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern

HQ: Columbus, OH
SE STATES: Florida, North Carolina

A sister company of Ocean Prime/Cameron Mitchell Restaurants group, the 24-unit Rusty Bucket calls itself a casual-dining experience, but offers made-from-scratch menus in every location.

Seasons 52

HQ: Orlando
SE STATES: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia

Another Darden rising star, the 41 units of Seasons 52 operate with simple, chef-designed seasonal menus with fresh, handcrafted upscale dining.


HQ: New York City
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, Texas

Get ready to flash some cash at this 15-unit chain, which operates around the world. The average check is $111. Look for two or three new locations annually in 50 major metro areas around the world.

Stoney River Steakhouse

HQ: Nashville, TN
SE STATES: Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee

All about the beef – 70 percent of sales at this 12 unit chain come from cows. Another J. Alexander’s sister company.

Sullivan’s Steakhouse

HQ: Southlake, Texas
SE STATES: Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas

Think Del Frisco’s on the cheap; the group’s 18 units average $64 per diner. Posh white tablecloth setting and progressive menu offerings.

The Greene Turtle

HQ: Columbia, MD
SE STATES: Virginia and DC

With 46 units, The Greene Turtle announced its partnership with the Sea Turtle Conservancy this year, cementing its commitment to help protect different species of sea turtles. But no turtle soup. Look for two new locations this yeare.

True Food Kitchen

HQ: Phoenix, AZ
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, Texas, Virginia

A progressive concept rooted in the principles of Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet with an emphasis on wholesome, simple ingredients at 20 units.

Tupelo Honey Cafe

HQ: Asheville, NC
SE STATES: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

Southern comfort made from scratch but with fine dining flair – a Blue Ridge Mountain delight with 15 units and a commitment to local growers.

Wild Wing Cafe

HQ: Charlotte, NC
SE STATES: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

Not to be confused with the Buffalo version – this 42 unit chain rocks, literally, with food and entertainment getting equal billing. By year-end, the company plans to open another five locations.

Zea Rotisserie & Bar

HQ: New Orleans
SE STATES: Greater New Orleans

This one’s only in New Orleans for now (since 1997!) but the eight unit chain has three star chefs and is making moves, inspired by rotisserie cooking in European food markets.

Zinburger Wine & Burger Bar

HQ: Livingston, NJ
SE STATES: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia

Fox Restaurant Concepts of Phoenix introduced the 18-unit Zinburger concept. The Briad Group is now the owner and will be expanding by about five new stores a year.

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