A baseball game, neighborhood cookout, or Fourth of July bash wouldn't be the same without hot dogs and barbecue. The duo proliferates at picnics and sporting events, but it's rare to see them co-headlining at a restaurant. That makes it easy to describe Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ as a multi-pronged dining experience and a must-try destination to have on your radar.
Spearheaded by couple Samantha and Salvatore Rincione in 2018, the small upstart has seen a streak of expansion in a short period of time. In five years, dozens of locations have opened around the country -- and judging by the increasing amount of praise (including by Fast Casual's "Movers and Shakers" round-up) more Americans are likely to become aware of its lively appeal before long.
"Beat the craving" is the brand's on-point command, with a well-stocked booze station, gullet-busting grub, and endless entertainment showing temptations abounding at every corner. But it's also an all-ages tavern, and by diving into the details you'll understand why the place is currently making waves in the fast-casual sphere. Explore the unique aspects of the Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ chain through these cool facts.
Franchising Drives The Restaurant's Growth
From the moment the Rinciones unveiled Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ, they were reliant on franchising to grow the restaurant's footprint. The head honchos are enthusiastically involved in the process, beginning by meeting with the interested party first-hand and ending with robust training before they cut the ribbon.
As Samantha Rincione told Business Beyond Magazine, "Crave was created from the start to be a franchised business." To the co-founder's credit, it didn't hurt that she had prior encounters with the operational ends of restaurant management. Rincione handled a flourishing branch of fro-yo shops on the East Coast (Red Mango Frozen Yogurt, for those in the know) and tallied around 10 locations during her tenure. The prosperous project shows a through-line, so to speak, to the rapid-fire expansion Crave has encountered so far.
To date, standalone establishments have been the prime format for franchisees getting on board, but the chain is open to other methods of financial gain. Leasing your own Crave establishment will require a $35,000 franchising fee, and in order to qualify for the role, a prospective franchisee will need to have a lot of personal wealth, which means possessing $50,000 in capital and net worth alone. In general, the entire enterprise totals half a million dollars.
Most Crave Franchisees Are Military Veterans
Crave's commitment to the U.S. military is unwavering, to say the least. Just walk into any location, and it's evident from tributes to the fallen and Old Glory herself hanging from the wall. The brand is outspoken in honoring veterans, but members of the armed forces get a whole lot more than discounted food for their sacrifices. On the contrary, soldiers (both former and active) play a large role in running the restaurants. The brand even incentivizes it, notifying army bases of openings and reducing franchising fees. According to a company press release, vets run a majority of Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ establishments with close to 90% of locations. It's hard to beat that sort of representation!
Truth be told, it's common for a restaurant to promote a cause that's close to its heart. In Crave's case, it's paying respects to the individuals protecting America's liberties. But besides recognizing service members' sacrifices, Crave also celebrates their effective leadership. The military is a highly structured environment, with rules and regulations to be followed. This is likely an asset for maintaining a busy dining establishment, regardless of whether the individual has any prior retail experience.
Many Menu Items Are Air-Fried
Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ breaks with tavern tradition in a pretty noticeable way. How so? It ditches the tool used by every greasy spoon in history: the deep-fryer. Social House News reports that the chain's kitchens utilize air fryers that are capable of blistering munchies -- think onion rings or chicken nuggets -- in a snap. As a convection oven, they lean on high heat versus oil, essentially axing the artery-clogging factor. It's very telling when you look at the menu; fries submerged in a bubbling vat of canola couldn't be described as "baked."
This isn't to suggest green juice or antioxidant-stuffed açaí bowls are hitting the lineup any time soon. Crave's menu, minus the occasional lettuce greens, goes whole-hog on stick-to-the-ribs comfort. It's starchy and loaded with carbs, just the way any proud bar bite can be. Considering the limited nutritional value of a barbecue-slathered macaroni bowl, the possibility of a nourishing meal is doubtful, to say the least. As one franchise owner phrased it, "a tater tot is still a tater tot." Regardless, if Crave can make potato goodness a little less greasy than usual, it gives diners all the more incentive to pig out here.
Hot Dogs Feature A Wide Variety Of Toppings
Offering your fill of regionally diverse loaded weenies is a given at Crave. What other chain dining establishment slaps nachos, coleslaw, or meat chili on a juicy beef dog? Yet maybe you yearn for a combination the menu hasn't covered. Activating your creative side won't be hard, because at Crave, there are enough toppings to strike any foodie's fancy. We can't quite say the sky is the limit, but the condiments are comprehensive for a variety of tastes.
Crafting your own ballpark lunch unlocks dozens of garnishes and sauces, ranging from old-faithfuls like relish and onions to flavorful add-ons that increase in indulgence (and price). For starters, a solid selection is complimentary: ingredients such as shredded sauerkraut, tangy pickles, or diced tomatoes can boost your brat free of charge. Otherwise, you can select one of the "premium" condiments that cost 95 cents extra, such as mouthwatering beer cheese or crispy bacon bits. Hot dogs, at least the build-your-own option, are capped at two toppings apiece unless you upgrade for more -- so choose wisely!
Customers Get To Pour Their Own Beer
At Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ, there's no waiting around for the bartender to serve you a drink. Quite the opposite, because the restaurant allows patrons to do their own pouring. Adding money to a special card gives customers the metaphorical keys to the "beer wall," where dozens of boozy beverages -- ales, wines, and ciders -- exist for (almost) endless sipping pleasure. Ever struggled to polish off a pint due to the size or taste? Since the format works well for sampling, simply follow the whims of your appetite and consume what you're in the mood for.
Understandably, the self-serve model can potentially pivot into bottomless buffet territory, and while the worst thing to happen at the former is a stomachache, there are much higher risks with the alcoholic version. At the time of this writing, guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control advise women and men alike to keep their daily intake low -- one to two drinks, respectively. Crave's cap-off is 96 ounces, which is the equivalent of six pints, so it is fairly generous. In any case, there's even a "tapologist" on hand to check in with visitors at the 32-ounce mark. Just "drink responsibly," and you'll have a sweet, not sour, time.
Every Location Has Regional Beverages On Tap
According to the Brewers Association, a quarter of America's beer industry flows from the craft end. Independent breweries offer a unique alternative to commercial drafts, preventing a restaurant's drink rotation from looking like every other watering hole in town. Since the contents of Crave's beer wall are left to the franchise owners, what's on tap depends greatly on the location. That translates to a carefully curated selection that showcases the region. Tried-and-true Stella Artois and Coors, for example, will appear in the mix as well, but the libations center on local sips. Without a doubt, it's a beer lover's paradise through and through.
Prioritizing smaller makers allows the drinking experience to feel special. You can gulp down a Miller Lite at your local baseball game, but tasting ales that are brewed under a single roof is a whole other rodeo. One outpost in Dawsonville, Georgia, boasts brews crafted in Atlanta, including Scofflaw and New Realm Brewing Company, while Iowans will spy smaller pours out of Big Grove Brewery and Fishback & Stephenson. Meanwhile, South Carolina carries Palmetto Brewing Co., a landmark taproom long considered a Charlotte institution.
Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ Hosts Loads Of Activities
Samantha Rincione has spoken at length on Crave's "extremely welcoming" dining space, and the crowd-pleasing grub is just one part of the picture. The other part, of course, is the entertainment. Crave keeps a light tone with oodles of activities while offering a backyard cookout experience year-round. Events are scheduled most days of the week, but it could also be as simple as playing one of the various tabletop games available.
Bingo, trivia, and karaoke are some of the primary happenings (with prizes to boot), or try outsmarting your group at a round of Boggle -- or for little kids, a human-sized Connect Four -- for an interactive and all-ages experience. Add in the jumbo-sized televisions for game-day shenanigans, and it's hard to imagine a livelier hang-out for lazy weekends. Most up-and-running establishments also offer deals and discounts along the way, with popular promotions such as Taco Tuesday and Wing Wednesday keeping the good vibes trucking along.
Reserve An Axe-Throwing Session During Your Meal
Mid-bite intermissions, whether it be your turn at Scrabble or a rousing Spice Girls tribute, are yet another reason skeptics need to check out Crave. But there's one attraction that goes just as big as the beer wall. Though dart-throwing and corn hole are tavern pastimes for good reason, the chain has definitely upped its leisure game selection with a thrilling activity.
Axe-throwing is available at some locations, which should give anyone interested the nudge to make their reservation. To the uninitiated, the activity involves heaving sharp iron blades with all of your might against the thrill of a roving bulls-eye on the board, and Americans (and Canadians too) can't get enough of it.
Maybe the idea of slinging a weapon into the air freaks you out a bit. You wouldn't be the first to fear injuring somebody else, least of all yourself, with such a humungous tool. That being said, the restaurant is extremely proactive in clearing the grounds for clean, safe fun, and the waiver customers sign runs down the sport's do's and don'ts. Another pro tip from the folks at Crave? Larger crowds mean more fun, so gather as many friends as you can for the ultimate night out.
These Menu Items Keep Customers Coming Back
Brats and barbecue are what diners go bonkers over when eating out at Crave, should the eatery's name not give it away. But what, specifically, are customers hyping up off the menu? You can't blame us for asking. A newer chain can be difficult to navigate since the restaurant is still making a name for itself and lacks the media coverage of its well-established competitors. Consumer feedback, in this case, matters a lot. The verdict? Not one, but two concoctions are catching a fan following of their own, and it's a location in Canton, Michigan, that has the tasty details.
Apparently, thumbs are going all the way up for Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ's Memphis Dog and Mac 'N Brisket bowl. The signature hot dog channels the barbecue style big in Tennessee with juicy pulled pork and coleslaw, and ticks all the boxes for a best-seller. The bowl, on the other hand, is a deconstructed twist on the fan-favorite Mac 'N Brisket sandwich. Arriving in a cast-iron pan like a baked macaroni and cheese, it's doused in orange cheddar cheese, smoked brisket, and a slick coating of barbecue sauce as a sticky final touch.
Food Trucks Bring Crave's Food To The Road
Hawking your wares out of a cart or stand is a tale as old as time, and food trucks are just a modern iteration that makes convenience foods even more accessible. Crave went down this road starting in 2020, and the mobile eatery model has created a tail-spin of franchising activity. Las Vegas was the destination that kicked it off, but at the time of this writing, more have wheeled into towns throughout South and Central Florida.
Considering food trucks face exorbitantly lower overhead costs compared to standing restaurants, they're an appealing option for first-time restaurateurs. Not to mention brick-and-mortar stores had a rough go of it during the pandemic. In 2021, Samantha Rincione told Beyond Exclamation: "I'm constantly researching trends and following the market to see where we have to be, in order to be ahead of the others," which certainly explains the company's strategy of embracing mobile options. Where exactly can you find Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ next? Plenty of food trucks park in central areas of the regions they canvas, in addition to camping out at breweries, festivals, and other public gatherings.
It's Entered The Cannabis Industry
With more states legalizing cannabis, recreational spaces have bloomed in budding numbers to provide more people a refuge for enjoying the drug safely and happily. Part and parcel of the plant's euphoric properties is triggering an appetite, and Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ's menu is just the ticket for satisfying it. Per Restaurant News, the franchise will supply its tantalizing meats and franks to a "cannabis consumption lounge" that is in the early phases of development. Naturally, the joint is called Bud's Place and aims to offer "High. Quality. Fun." Here, visitors can enjoy a smoke -- and thanks to Crave, some loaded tots and jumbo wings while they're at it.
If you're not familiar with the difference, Bud's Place is not a dispensary. Whereas smoke shops sell cannabis commercially to customers, the cafe-style format Bud's Place markets itself as proffers the facility for partaking in the substance. To the extent that cannabis makes progress on the federal level, it might be a while before the venue enters the retail realm. But for the time being, we can look forward to Crave's sports bar sustenance breaking through an immensely prosperous industry.
Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ Continues To Expand Around The Country
The future is looking bright for Crave Hot Dogs & BBQ. Never content to rest on its laurels, the restaurant aims to share its tempting grub with as many hungry mouths as possible, and in just a few years, it's crafted an impressive blueprint for achieving success. There are over 50 brick-and-mortar restaurants and around 20 food trucks currently in business, and that number is growing by the day. In the grand scheme, however, Crave's ambitions go a whole lot higher as it would like to see at least double the outlets within the next couple of years.
The Southern United States (with a chunk of the Midwest) encompasses the majority of Crave's openings, as demonstrated by the many locations cropping up across Arkansas, Kentucky, the Carolinas, and more. But there's good news for everyone else. The chain is eyeing more of an Eastern presence, and major cities on the Northern coasts are becoming the latest recipients of its easygoing crawl. A Bronx outpost was reportedly in the works as of October 2022, and in September 2023, Pennsylvanians got a formal introduction when the barbecue spot launched in a Pittsburgh suburb.
Read the original article on Mashed.