Chad Coulter, co-founder and CEO Images courtesy of Biscuit BellyChad Coulter, co-founder and CEO Images courtesy of Biscuit BellyChipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys, Panera Bread, QDOBA Mexican Eats — those are some of the most familiar names and groundbreaking concepts in the fast-casual segment that continue to set the pace in the category they helped define. But in the collective shadow of such Goliaths, there’s a slew of up-and-coming concepts — some very new, some newly invigorated and primed for expansion — keeping the category fresh, dynamic and more diverse than ever.

Their menus range from classic comfort and soul foods to ethnic and fusion cuisines, plant-forward, diet-friendly and indulgent vegan. Their founders include entrepreneurial immigrants, opportunity-spotting friends and family members, and even corporate chains seeking new avenues for growth. But as different as they may be, they’re all driven to satisfy consumer appetites for high-quality, flavorful foods, customization, speed and convenience while at the same time delivering unique brand experiences.

Biscuit Belly

  • Founders: Chad and Lauren Coulter
  • HQ: Louisville, Ky.
  • Menu focus: Southern-style breakfast, brunch, lunch
  • Units: 9
  • Average check: $14-$15 per person
  • Ideal unit size: 3,000 square feet

fast casual biscuit interior 1What started as an idea for a single restaurant quickly proved expansion-worthy for CEO Chad Coulter, who, with his wife Lauren, opened the first Biscuit Belly in Louisville, Ky., in 2019. “We never had any grandiose ideas of going past that first location, but we blew our projections out of the water and the profitability was nice,” says Coulter. “We started thinking this could be a desirable franchise concept.”

Touting an elevated fast-casual model, strong positioning in growing breakfast and brunch dayparts, differentiators like espresso drinks and cocktails, and a strong focus on fried chicken, Biscuit Belly is poised for expansion. As of this fall, the brand had three corporate stores in Louisville and one in Indiana. Biscuit Belly also has three franchised units and two units developed through a joint venture established with a local investment group to develop stores in the Carolinas and Virginia. In August, the company partnered with Oakscale, a franchise development company for emerging brands.

“We have one more store opening in Lexington, Ky. by the end of this year and leases signed or under negotiation for another eight locations next year,” Coulter says. “A majority of those will be in the Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina markets. Oakscale is now helping us fill up our franchise development pipeline. We expect to have 20 units signed under area development agreements, four agreements for five stores each, over the next few years.”

While developed as a fast-casual, Biscuit Belly offers a higher level of service and 70% of sales are dine-in. After guests order at the counter, Coulter says, the staff takes it from there, running the food, drinks, bussing tables, getting refills. “That also sets us apart, helps ensure that we keep a clean environment and adds an element of Southern hospitality, which is important to our brand,” he notes. “For franchisees, we’re also attractive because we open at 7 a.m. and close at 2 or 3 p.m.”

Ideal unit size of 3,000 square feet includes 80 seats inside and another 20 to 30 patio seats. The brand looks for second-generation sites in cities of 150,000 to 200,000, with young professionals and young families with household incomes of $75,000 to $125,000 being demographic targets.

Biscuit Belly units are designed with a bright, modern, energetic feel using core brand colors of teal, white, blue and mustard yellow. The food, however, stars, with menu items developed and presented to taste great and photograph well. Anchored by scratch-made biscuits, they include a wide array of Southern breakfast standards, many with unique twists, towering biscuit sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, build-your-own bowls, and several vegetarian and lighter options.