Fresh to Order is somewhere between fast food and fine dining.
The restaurant specializes in "fine food fast," according to its creator, Pierre Panos, who began thinking about the concept in 2004 and opened the first location in Midtown Atlanta two years later.
Since then efforts have ramped up to expand the Fresh to Order concept, opening a location in East Brainerd at 1919 Gunbarrel Road in 2009.
Now, Panos said the company is eyeing spots downtown -- possibly near the Tennessee Aquarium -- to make the brand more visible in Chattanooga.
"Once we find the location, there will probably be a 2012 opening," he said. "We're hoping to find a franchisee who will work with us and get the store open -- or we can open it and then they can buy it. For us to be great franchisors, we have to concentrate on markets with a strong presence."
For years, Panos' company, QS America, has run 15 Papa John's franchise locations in the area, so he knew the market well when he decided to expand here. The company also oversees real estate and the Fresh to Order and Brookwood Grill brands.
"We've had a lot of interest in the Cleveland area, and around Hixson Pike," he said. "But for now, we need to get the downtown location open and solidify the market."
Craig Light, a manager of several stores who spends one day a week in Chattanooga, described the restaurant as "a little up market at a good price." The goal is to serve people their food in less than 10 minutes, with items costing less than $10, he said.
Since opening in 2009, Light said the store has steadily grown. At the beginning when the economy was still struggling, it was tough, he said, but last year the tides began to turn.
"The last six to seven months in 2010 were fantastic percentage-wise," Light said. "Our growth was really strong. And now that the economy has picked up again, there's a lot more interest."
Light said a downtown location would complement the existing Gunbarrel location, providing the opportunity for greater foot traffic with tourists and downtown workers.
Although time and price are main factors in the concept of Fresh to Order, Panos also wanted a strong emphasis on good, fresh food and a fine-dining atmosphere. All entrees, panini sandwiches and salads are made to order and served directly to the table, instead of pre-cooked foods that must be picked up at a counter like in many fast casual restaurants, he said.
"The whole goal is to take really, really good taste profiles and chef techniques, and re-engineer them to give the customer a quality dining experience," Panos said.
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