The Hot List

Food and Drink Ideas

Dessert-Only Restaurants

Chocolate cafes made our list last year, and while they still offer a tasty opportunity, they've spurred an equally tantalizing concept: dessert-only restaurants. A clear indication of America's growing sweet tooth is in consumers' dining habits. According to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research at the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC, nearly one in three fine-dining operators reported that consumers bought more desserts this year than two years ago. Fine-dining operators also indicated the strongest growth in desserts.

In January, Stephane Lemagnen and Laurent Lanneau, 31 and 34, respectively, catered to the craving by opening Room 4 Dessert, one of New York City's first dessert-only establishments. The restaurant offers a variety of dessert-tasting menus to be paired with wines and teas, and culinary masterpieces are created before customers' very eyes. No wonder curious pastry chefs visit from the West Coast, visitors consider the dessert bar a must-hit spot in New York, and the media--even in Japan--just can't seem to get enough.

The high-end, dessert-only concept is so tempting that competitors have already put their hands in the cookie jar and opened their own. But Lemagnen, who projects 2006 sales of about $500,000, feels secure with his piece of the pie. "Each pastry chef is so unique and creative that each dessert bar is going to have its own character," he says. And with the restaurant industry set to reach a record high of $511 billion in annual sales this year, according to Riehle, there's nothing bitter about this sweet trend. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Years on the list: 2 out of 20

The verdict is in: Chocolate has officially gone from sinful to unstoppable. In fact, trend-watching firm Datamonitor named chocolate "the new coffee" in a list of the top 10 trends to watch. But that's not all: Studies have come out demonstrating the health benefits of flavanoids often contained in dark chocolate. Sales are soaring (dark chocolate sales were up 40 percent in 2006, according to Mintel International), and entrepreneurial opportunities are rich with promise. "Chocolate is more popular today than ever before," says Joan Steuer, founder and president of Chocolate Marketing LLC, a Los Angeles consulting firm that specializes in strategic forecasting and tracking trends in the chocolate industry.

So stop drooling and take a bite of the action. Dark, artisanal, organic, socially responsible and nutraceutically enhanced chocolates are especially hot varieties, according to Steuer. Opportunities also exist in chocolate cafes, chocolate fountains and chocolate education, such as tastings. And you can't go wrong with basics like chocolate snacks or a shelf-stable ganache. Says Steuer, "The world of chocolate is wide open for anyone to succeed if they take the right steps." --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Burger Restaurants

Americans always have a buck for a burger. In fact, this American staple is getting so much attention that it's inspiring some of the country's top chefs to start their own burger restaurants--including husband-and-wife team Tim and Liza Goodell, 40 and 36, respectively.

These restaurateurs just added 25 Degrees, a Hollywood, California, burger and wine bar, to their impressive list of restaurants. Offering assorted toppings such as caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and a variety of high-end cheeses, this isn't your typical burger joint. And neither is the sophisticated setting of crystal chandeliers, leather booths and velvet wallpaper. The 1,700-square-foot restaurant opened in February and is already on track to bring in $1,000 per square foot this year. "Hamburgers are the most commonly eaten food in the United States," says Tim, who plans to open several more locations in the Western U.S.

Ivan Brown, brand manager of ground beef at Cargill Meat Solutions, a producer of ground beef in Wichita, Kansas, couldn't agree more. According to Brown, 8.5 billion burgers were served in commercial restaurants during the 12 months ending March 2006. Entrepreneurs can beef things up with upgrades, customization and flavor. Give consumers high-end toppings, the freedom to create, and ethnic and untraditional flavor options, and this is one item certain to keep the grill red-hot. For those interested in franchising, check out this month's "What's New" column on page 126 for information about gourmet burger chain The Counter. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Healthy Food
Years on the list: 2 out of 20

America has a growing appetite for all things healthy. From zero trans-fat snacks to fortified foods with added health benefits, if it's good for the consumer, it's most likely good for business. Even candy is being loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, healthy extracts and vitamin C. But the real buzzword is organic. According to the Organic Trade Association, based in Greenfield, Massachusetts, organic food sales in the U.S. totaled nearly $14 billion in 2005, with double-digit growth expected from 2007 to 2010. According to the association's press secretary, Barbara Haumann, consumers--especially the Generation Y crowd--are happy to do away with added hormones, antibiotics and genetic modifications.

Not sure there's room for more competitors on the organic playing field? Have no fear. Opportunities abound, especially in niche areas like alcohol (according to the Organic Trade Association, organic beers grew from $9 mil-lion in 2003 to $19 million in 2005), candy, condiments and sauces, not to mention food for kids, babies and pets.

Gigi Lee Chang, 39, received a warm welcome when she officially launched her line of organic, frozen baby food products nationwide in major retailers like Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market as well as smaller natural and organic grocery stores this past August. Based in New York City, Plum Organics is the first to launch organic, frozen baby food on a national level, and Chang expects 2007 sales to hit $1 million. Not bad for a company in its infancy. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Years on the list: 2 out of 20

As long as grapes bud from vines, the wine business will be bursting with flavorful opportunity. According to John Gillespie, president of the Wine Market Council, a St. Helena, California, non-profit wine trade association, the wine industry has enjoyed significant growth for the past 12 years, with today's big wine drinkers being baby boomers as well as some in the Millennial generation (those ages 21 to 29). Estimated at $26 billion, with a 115 percent increase since 1995, the wine industry likely won't be sobering up anytime soon.

Wine has such appeal that a variety of businesses can be seen cropping up--from wine bars and wine stores to educational in-home tastings and ancillary products that enhance the overall wine experience. And now that new laws legalizing online wine sales have uncorked the industry, entrepreneurs are finding a worldwide market to conquer. Attracting the masses means keeping your wines inexpensive and drinker-friendly. "In a lot of retail environments and on some wine lists, there has been a movement toward categorizing wines by their flavor profile rather than strictly by their grape variety or by their country or region of origin," says Gillespie. Also growing in popularity are wines packaged in single-serving bottles and wines topped with a screw cap.

No matter how you twist it, package it or label it, if you specialize in wine, consumers will gladly toast your efforts. Even NASCAR drivers are producing their own vintages--a surefire indication that it's all systems go. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

Years on the list: 4 out of 20

Whether it's a drip, a latte or a cappuccino, Americans are addicted to their coffee. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, specialty coffee was an $11 billion industry in 2005, up from $9.6 billion in 2004. But some historians theorize that what Americans are really looking for in their cup of joe is a sense of belonging. "We spent so much of the post [World War II] period in this country retreating inside suburban houses [with] fenced-in back-yards," says Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia who spent a year studying Starbucks. "Coffeehouses play to [the] desire [to be] out, even if you don't talk to anyone."

For Beth Livedoti, 29, Jeff Furton, 29, and Stephanie Lemmo, 28, entering the industry in 2004 meant opening a window--or two. At The Daily Rise Expresso, a double-sided coffee and smoothie drive-thru in Ogden, Utah, customers come for more than a drink. "[Some customers] come in two to three times a day just to talk," says Livedoti. "We are their little piece of sanity." Year-end sales will reach $300,000, a second location opened earlier this year, and franchising is in its future.

If a coffeehouse isn't for you, think products like Java Juice, a liquid extract straight from the bean. Other niches include aftermarket products like Coca-Cola Blak and products that incorporate coffee for its health benefits--caffeine's been linked to decreasing the risk of diabetes, liver cirrhosis, Parkinson's disease and even gallstones. --S.W.

To find out how to start this business, read the complete article here .

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This article was originally published in the December 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Hot List.

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