In 1996, the Pro Billiards Tour declared Jimmy Wetch to be the fifth-best billiards player in the world. Now, the pro circulates among the 20 emerald felt plots at Jimmy's Pro Billiards, chatting with fellow billiards enthusiasts. At 9-foot and 7-foot Diamond and Gold Crown tables, players sink colorful spheres, and snooker tables encourage them to yell “snooker” as loud as they can. The staccato snap of the cue against a ball rhythmically fills the 10,000 feet of airy, high-ceilinged space. In the kitchen, the staff slices deli meats and pairs hand-pattied burgers with hand-cut french fries and beers with manually placed bubbles.
Originally opened as the Top Hat Drive-In in 1953, Sonic has grown into a burger-franchise mecca that today operates out of 3,500 locations across the country, making it the nation’s largest chain of drive-in restaurants. Sonic specializes in made-to-order American classics—including burgers, hot dogs, milk shakes, and marshmallow Ford Thunderbolts—which customers order and receive without ever having to leave their cars. Unique menu items include toaster sandwiches stacked on thick slices of texas toast, as well as the brand’s signature tots and fresh limeades.
Sonic’s numerous awards include a 2011 Zagat survey ranking it among the top five fast-food restaurants in three categories: Best Value Menu, Best Milk Shake, and Best Drive-Thru. The benevolent eatery has also donated more than $2 million to public schools throughout the country through their program Limeades for Learning, which helps to fund educational projects and retirement plans for classroom guinea pigs.
More than 50 years go, Mike Ilitch was poised for major-league glory. An up-and-coming shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, his baseball finesse was blossoming when an injury derailed his sports career. But although the wound stunted his athletic aspirations, it steered him toward a new path, and on May 8, 1959, he and his wife opened the first Little Caesars location, a then-unheard-of carry-out-only joint. The career shift and novel technique eventually proved triumphant. Today, the pizzeria's iconic, toga-clad mascot adorns storefronts on five continents. In each shop, staffers forge the signature Hot-N-Ready pizza, a freshly baked pizza designed for instant pickup, and warm, garlicky Crazy bread. With a storied half-century under their belt, Mike Ilitch and his family strive to give back, supporting local organizations and creating their own charitable programs.
While most barbecue caterers are happy to supply clients with buckets of homestyle sides and cuts of meat, not many will send along a barbecue pit master free of charge. Mr. BBQ is the exception, sending its experienced chefs to man the grills at client events and ensure each hickory-smoked cut is fresh, hot, and expertly sauced. This level of care extends to the barbecue joint’s regular menu, which includes tender cuts of pulled pork, flavorful bites of applewood-smoked chicken, and St. Louis ribs. Chefs pair each entree with a choice of two homestyle sides—such as creamed cucumbers, Cajun rice, and red beans and rice—and a cornbread muffin, creating a full southern meal for diners reclining on the outdoor patio or catching catnaps underneath the checkered tablecloths in the dining room.
Though customers might stop by Miller’s Corner Bar for a lot of things—a frosty beer, a night with friends, a meeting with an anonymous PTA informant—chances are good that they're there for the burgers. The chefs hand shape third-pound mounds of freshly ground beef each day, then grill and dress them to become one of the restaurant's more than eight signature bunned morsels. Chili cheese, fried eggs, spicy jalapeños, and a range of other toppings play their part in the slate of creative burger varieties, some of which center on a turkey or veggie patty for a leaner meal. With a burger and a cold glass of beer or 1919 draft root beer, regulars can hang around the bar until closing time, forging relationships like those on classic sitcoms or CSPAN specials.
Smashburger isn't just the name—it's the way chefs, otherwise known as Burger Smashers, cook every burger. First, they form never-frozen, 100% Certified Angus Beef into a giant meatball. Then they season it, place it on a butter-glazed grill, and smash it into a patty. The process caramelizes the beef, locking in flavor while keeping the meat juicy and tender. Each slab is then sandwiched in an artisan bun and is turned into one of an array of standard burgers or locally inspired specialties unique to each market.
This handcrafting approach typifies everything else the restaurant does, from blending handspun shakes to hand painting Smashburger's logo onto every beverage cup. Letting its food stand for itself and relying mostly on word of mouth for advertising, the Smashburger franchise expanded from one restaurant in 2007 to 220 today, with its swift growth from zero to 100 stores making it one of the nation's fastest-growing restaurant companies. This rapid development even caught the attention of Forbes and Inc. along the way.