These 4 Restaurants Are On The Cusp Of Hitting It Big In 2023

The top chain restaurants in America include some fast-growing brands.

We've gleaned a lot of valuable intel from this year's Top 500 Report from Nation's Restaurant News, a ranking of the biggest restaurant chains in America based on sales and growth. We learned, for example, that America prefers one pizza chain above all others. We've also learned that the nation's most embattled sandwich chain, Subway, must be doing something right in 2023. And we are left to cross our fingers for these five restaurants, whose slipping sales potentially indicate a ship that needs to be righted. All this leaves us to ask: Which restaurants are on the verge of making it to the big leagues?

While the top 50 restaurants in America are a fascinating lineup of fast food, fast casual, and full-service sit-down dining options, the next 50 after that are perhaps even more instructive. The McDonald's and Starbucks of the world might hold their top spots for decades, but slots 100-51 are any intrepid brand's to claim. Here are some of the most interesting players coming up just behind.

Dutch Bros. Coffee

Sitting just outside the top 50 is the mighty popular Dutch Bros. Coffee, which began in Oregon in 1992 and has ramped up its franchising efforts over the past few years, expanding to more of the country in 2021. It's a chain that hasn't reached most of the Midwest or East Coast just yet, but seems poised to do so soon: Systemwide sales were $1.2 billion in 2022, a whopping 28.9% increase over 2021 (notably, the year the company went public.)


Its growth was seemingly uninhibited by COVID and has prompted headlines like, "Is Dutch Bros the Next Starbucks?" Maybe, but you'll probably never post up at a Dutch Bros. to get any work done—the company relies primarily on drive-thru and walkup stands rather than offering indoor cafe space at its locations.

Dave & Buster’s

You'd be forgiven if you didn't immediately clock Dave & Buster's as a restaurant—your mind might zoom straight toward the arcade games—but D&B's has claimed the 80th spot in the Top 500 Report this year, with $670.5 million in sales and a 54.4% jump in the rankings.


There are a few possible reasons for the leap. For one thing, the sales year 2022 represents the first full post-vaccine year following the COVID pandemic; as such, it might have been the first full year since 2019 in which customers felt comfortable spending hours dining and gaming in an establishment with few windows and countless shared touch points. Furthermore, D&B's rolled out a "Game & Go" concept in 2022 that represents a whole new way of spending money at the establishment: an on-site mini-mart that scans customers (like an Amazon Go Grocery store) so they can simply walk out with their items instead of having to stop and insert payment.

Finally, in late 2022, the brand announced plans to shift its primary focus away from families with young children and toward adults 21-39 who come to Dave & Buster's to hang with their "squad." This might help capture even more of those coveted millennial and Gen Z dollars and turn more customers into return visitors.


Auntie Anne’s

There's something magical about a big, warm soft pretzel you can acquire at the mall between trips to Hollister and Williams-Sonoma. But in fact, Auntie Anne's greatest success in 2022 might have been breaking free of its shopping mall associations altogether. After opening its first drive-thru location in 2021 (in partnership with Jamba), the brand spent 2022 inking a deal to open 10 more freestanding locations, which will be co-branded Auntie Anne's/Cinnabon shops throughout New York City. The fact that we're no longer limited to shopping malls and airports to get our pretzel fix might have contributed to Auntie Anne's $652.3 million in sales last year, placing it at number 82 in the rankings.


Crumbl Cookies

And then, of course, there's Crumbl. Its 59th-place ranking in the Top 500 might not sound impressive, but compare that to just last year, when it placed 297th. In 2022 alone, Nation's Restaurant News reports, the brand more than doubled its footprint by opening 363 additional locations (and keep in mind, it's only existed since 2017). As of this writing, Crumbl notes 851 units, and its locations directory looks like the map of a viral outbreak.


What more is there to be said about this brand, which has grown at lightning-fast speed and relies on social media food porn to amass an unthinkably large customer base for its excessively large cookies? Well, we could mention the degree to which Crumbl DGAF about the controversy surrounding its suburban takeover, or the fact that it was found in violation of child labor laws in six states. The company is so on fire right now, even illegal infractions and hefty fines haven't done much to slow it down. We're almost scared to see where it lands on next year's Top 500 Report.