The hottest IPO of the year is a chain restaurant from flyover country: Denver-based Noodles & Company. After it went public last Friday, its stock price immediately doubled, a clear indication that Wall Street undervalued the company.
With 343 locations, Noodles & Company is like an International House of Noodles. As its tagline "Your World Kitchen" suggests, Noodles & Company's menu offerings (which, along with noodles, include sandwiches, soups, salads, and baked goods) are inspired by Italy, Thailand, Japan and Wisconsin. Fans, including the blogger Jason Kottke, praise it for being fresh, delicious and just plain friendly.
The similarities don't end there. If you stack up the reasons behind Noodle & Company's success, you might almost believe that CEO Kevin Reddy has been knowingly following a formula. After all, he used to be Chipotle's COO.
They're Both From Colorado
Chipotle and Noodle & Co. were both founded in Denver, and grew by word-of-mouth in the center of the country, where healthier dining options are fewer and farther between than in urban coastal centers. Its mid-American roots help Noodles & Co. stay in tune with mainstream tastes, even as American palates get more sophisticated.
Both Pay Attention To Ingredients And Sourcing—But Not In A Snobby Way
Chipotle is a pioneer in the fast food industry when it comes to the sustainable and healthy standards with which it sources meat and other ingredients. Noodles & Co., for its part, is piloting a program to source its vegetables locally; the wheat in Noodle & Co. noodles comes from a farm in North Dakota.
Both Menus Offer Something For Everybody
Chipotle offers vegetarian and vegan-friendly options along with, famously, Niman Ranch pork. Vegan options, gluten free, Weight Watchers, or kid-friendly mac & cheese and fresh-baked cookies: Noodles&Co's fan page is full of testimonials from folks across the taste spectrum. And both chains serve beer and wine, a classy rarity in the American fast food world.
Both Are Ace At Social Media
With 200,000 followers, @ChipotleTweets responds promptly to both fans and complainers all day long. @Noodlescompany has a mite fewer followers, 7000, but strikes just as friendly a tone: "@Chad_Daniel We're always happy to take suggestions, Chad!"
We cannot confirm whether Noodles & Co. sports what all good cult chain restaurants should; a secret menu item, akin to Chipotle's Super Burrito. But it's only a matter of time until reports surface, right?
If Wall Street analysts don't want to be surprised by future fast casual dining companies blowing up out of nowhere, they might want to take a look at Fast Company's fast food coverage of companies like Applebees, Olive Garden, and Chick-fil-A.