Companies and Brands

Don't Look Now But Food Courts Are In And These Brands Are Cashing In

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As much as it might be a surprise to many, food courts are making a comeback. Whether it’s nostalgia or something else, the food court concept is making a dramatic comeback. Even though food courts can now be found in both shopping malls and neighborhood venues, malls are also seeing their own resurgence. According to a 2023 Coresight Research Report, mall occupancy was up to 95.1%, a 3% increase from 2020. Anything over 92% is considered full as malls want to leave open space for new tenants. 

Mall traffic aside, it’s easy to wonder why food courts are exploding in popularity. The answer is that it’s largely being driven by a few brands. According to Yelp, brands like Wetzel’s Pretzels and Cinnabon are helping the food court return to glory. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the other brands Yelp has indicated are also helping this food court resurgence in descending order down to the one with the most consumer interest. 

5. Charleys

Charleys Philly Steak Mall
Source: Exchange Associate / Wikimedia Commons
Charleys is a great place to go for Philly Steak Sandwiches.
  • Year Founded: 1986
  • Locations: 781
  • Revenue: $534 million (2021) 
  • Yelp Consumer Interest Ranking: 42
  • Employees: Over 3,000
  • Market Cap: N/A

Charleys for Philly Steaks

Charleys Philly Steak Dolphin Mall
Source: SK Sturm Fan / Wikimedia Commons
With rising consumer interest, Charleys has 781 locations and growing.

Originally founded in 1985, Charley’s Philly Steaks founder Charley Shin first tried a Philly cheesesteak sandwich in Ohio of all places. After that moment, Charley was focused on creating an opportunity to share his love for this sandwich with everyone. The first Charleys Steakery (original name) was a 450-foot space near the Ohio State University campus. 

Today, Charley’s Philly Steaks serves some of the nation’s favorite cheesesteak sandwiches, fries, real-fruit lemonades, frozen shakes, boneless wings, and fried appetizers. Charleys currently operates over 700 locations in 46 states, across 17 countries and at U.S. Army and Air Force bases around the world. With this growth, according to Yelp, Charleys is one of the primary reasons the food court is surging as the 42nd biggest brand for consumer interest. 

Popular Charleys Menu Items

Charleys Philly Steaks Menu
Source: SK Sturm Fan / Wikimedia Commons
Unsurprisingly, the most popular menu item at Charleys is the Steak Philly Cheesesteak sandwich.
  1. It should go without saying the most popular menu item at Charleys is the Steak Philly Cheesesteak sandwich. 
  2. For the chicken lovers out there, try the Chicken Philly sandwich, you certainly won’t regret it. 
  3. If you’re up for the calorie boost, go with the cheese fries topped with Charleys’ signature cheese sauce. 
  4. Whether it’s strawberry, peach, or original lemonade, the drinks menu at Charleys is well worth the trip. 
  5. If you have a location near you that has a Charleys frozen shake, go with the Apple Pie shake every fall. 

4. Panda Express

Panda Express Store Location
Source: Chris Light / Wikimedia Commons
Panda Express’ rising consumer interest was enough to earn it a top 40 spot according to Yelp.
  • Year Founded: 1973
  • Locations: 2,394
  • Annual Sales: $3 billion
  • Yelp Consumer Interest Ranking: 35
  • Employees: 47,000
  • Market Cap: N/A

Panda Express For Everyone

Source: Juanmonino / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images
Panda Express is the largest Asian-segment restaurant in the U.S.

With just under 2,400 locations, Panda Express is a name that is likely familiar to many. As the largest Asian-segment restaurant chain in the U.S., Panda Express mostly operates in North America. Traditionally located in shopping mall food courts, Panda Express is now fueling a resurgence back to these locations. According to Yelp’s data, Panda Express is the 35th most popular brand consumers are expressing interest in. 

After finding success in the late 1980s and 1990s in shopping malls, it wouldn’t be until 1997 when the first stand-alone Panda Express location opened. Fast forward to today and most of Panda Express’ locations are outside of shopping malls. However, this could be changing as Panda Express looks to reintroduce more locations inside of food courts to reach a whole new customer base. 

Popular Panda Express Menu Items

Panda Express orange chicken
Source: Willis Lam / Wikimedia Commons
If there is one food item to try at Panda Express, it’s the orange chicken.
  1. When it comes to popular menu items, the Panda Express plate with 1 side and 2 entrees is wildly popular. This gives you an assortment of opportunities with fried or white rice plus an assortment of 12 different entrees. 
  2. The original Orange Chicken is undoubtedly one of the brand’s most popular menu items. 
  3. The same can be said for Honey Sesame Chicken Breast, Kung Pao Chicken, Beijing Beef, and more. 
  4. If you want something a little healthier with your meal, the Super Greens Broccoli is steamed as well as any sit-down restaurant can match. 
  5. Finish your meal with an Apple Pie Roll, a recent but already popular addition to the Panda Express menu. 

3. Marble Slab Creamery 

Marble Slab Creamery Desserts
Source: Mack Male / Wikimedia Commons
Some of the best ice creams in the U.S. is found at Marble Slab Creamery.
  • Year Founded: 1983
  • Locations: 392
  • Annual Sales: $813 million
  • Yelp Consumer Interest Ranking: 32
  • Employees: 459
  • Market Cap: N/A

Ice Cream All Day Long

Marble Slab Creamery Cup of Ice Cream
Source: Tom Hodgins / Flickr
In business since 1983, Marble Slab Creamery has 392 locations and growing.

As the fastest-growing brand in Mississippi, Marble Slab Creamery is showing off customer interest. With a 423% surge in interest in Mississippi alone, there is little doubt this ice cream brand is growing fast. With an estimated 392 locations, Marble Slab Creamery and its parent company, FAT Brands (Nasdaq: FAT), are eyeing even more growth. Regardless of the owner, Marble Slab Creamery specializes in serving homemade ice cream. 

With milkshakes, smoothies, ice cream cakes, and more shakes galore, there is something for everyone at Marble Slab Creamery. Delighting customers since 1983, you’ll find hand-rolled waffle cones alongside free mix-ins. The company likes to say that in its stores “imagination has no limits” when it comes to the type of ice cream you want to eat. 

Tasty Marble Slab Creamery Treats

Marble Slab Creamery Canada
Source: Rowanlovescars / Wikimedia Commons
Visit Marble Slab Creamery and try every flavor, then order a milkshake.
  1. It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a Dark Chocolate Cookies ‘N Cream ice cream cake. 
  2. Can you go wrong with Peanut Butter Chocolate Overload? We didn’t think so. 
  3. There’s never a bad time for a traditional ice cream sundae, but a Fudge Brownie Sundae is even better. 
  4. Of course, an Ice Cream Cookie Sandwich is the best kind of sandwich. 
  5. Take home a 5-cup create-your-own ice cream kit, perfect for the whole family. 

2. Cinnabon

Source: Michael Rivera / Wikimedia Commons
Founded in 1985, Cinnabon has 694 locations and growing.
  • Year Founded: 1985
  • Locations: 694
  • Annual Sales: $467 million
  • Yelp Consumer Interest Ranking: 25
  • Employees: N/A
  • Market Cap: N/A

Cinnabon Is a Food Court Staple

Cinnabon Store
Source: Stolbovsky / Wikimedia Commons
With growing popularity in the Midwest, Cinnabon is 25th on Yelp’s consumer interest list.

If you’re a resident of the Midwest in the U.S., there is a good chance you’re seeing a food court Cinnabon comeback. According to Reddit, Cinnabon saw a 131% jump in consumer interest in the Midwest alone. This helped Cinnabon earn itself a place as the number 25 brand on Yelp’s consumer interest list. It’s not unlikely to say you’ve seen a Cinnabon before at a food court, airport, or a rest stop. 

As the name gives away, the brand’s signature is its cinnamon roll. Between classic rolls, BonBites, Caramel PecanBon treats and plenty of cold brew iced coffee, Cinnabon has something for everyone. Whether you’re traveling or shopping, Cinnabon may just be the perfect treat. Best of all, you can join Cinnabon’s rewards program and get four free BonBites just for joining. Who can say no to that? 

Cinnabon’s Best Treats

Cinnabon Food Tray
Source: Dmitry Sandalov / Wikimedia Commons
Among the tastier treats at Cinnabon, start with the comforting Classic Roll.
  1. If you want the very best Cinnabon has to offer, go with the gooey yet comforting Classic Roll. 
  2. There’s just something delightful about Cinnabon’s Churro Stick which is baked to perfection. 
  3. On a warm summer day, the Cinnabon Frozen Lemonade is exactly what everyone needs. 
  4. Should you want something chocolatey, go with the Double Chocolate Mocha Chillata. 
  5. The CinnaSweeties are perfectly sized for the kiddos, especially when paired with Cinnabon’s signature frosting. 

1. Wetzel’s Pretzels

Wetzels Pretzels
Source: XWRN / Wikimedia Commons
Wetzel’s Pretzels is the fastest-growing food court staple according to Yelp.
  • Year Founded: 1994
  • Locations: 370
  • Annual Sales: $245 million
  • Yelp Consumer Interest Ranking: 22
  • Employees: 2,000
  • Market Cap: N/A

Wetzel’s Pretzels Is Taking Over

Wetzel's Pretzels - Tysons Corner Mall
Source: m01229 / Flickr
Visiting a Wetzel’s Pretzel is a must for pretzel and hot dog lovers.

According to Yelp, Wetzel’s Pretzels is conquering the nation with a 67% surge in consumer interest all across the U.S. This rise in interest was good enough to earn Wetzel’s Pretzels the number 22 spot on Yelp’s Fastest-Growing Brands list. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Wetzel’s Pretzels also serve incredible food. A combination of pretzels and hot dogs, there are more than 370 locations serving customers across the U.S., Canada, and Central America. 

For the most part, you’ll find Wetzel’s locations in shopping malls, airports, theme parks, and even a few food trucks. Currently owned by MTY Food Group (TSX: MTY), Wetzel’s offers its signature salted or unsalted pretzel as well as snackable pretzel bites. Alternatively, you can go with the all-beef hot dog wrapped in a pretzel. 

Yummy Wetzel’s Pretzels Treats

Wetzel's Pretezels National Pretzel Day
Source: Willis Lam / Flickr
If you stop by Wetzel’s Pretzels, start with the original salted pretzel.
  1. The best thing to eat at Wetzel’s Pretzels is its original salted pretzel. 
  2. Should you want something a little smaller, go with the Wetzel Bitz, a more bite-sized friendly treat. 
  3. Going to Wetzel’s Pretzels without tasting the Pretzel Dog Bites would be a missed opportunity. 
  4. The same can be said for the Wetzel Dog, a staple of this growing food court friendly business. 
  5. Cheese lovers will salivate over the Cheese Meltdown Pretzel which offers a blend of cheeses.


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