Ones To Watch: Tokyo Joe’s


While fast-casual giant Chipotle has grown to more than 1,000 locations in the past two decades, another fast-casual chain that also started in Denver around the same time has seen quieter growth.

Like Chipotle, the 29-unit Tokyo Joe’s serves natural meats and mostly organic veggies, focusing on health and freshness for the modern consumer.

“I had the idea to do clean, healthy Asian food this way before the fast-casual sector really existed,” says Larry Leith, Tokyo Joe’s founder and chief innovation officer. “There was one Chipotle at the time, but I didn’t know about it. I did meet [Chipotle founder] Steve [Ells] early on, but our path at Tokyo Joe’s has been a bit slower.”

In 18 years, Tokyo Joe’s has limited its growth to corporate-owned locations in Colorado. The decision to partner with middle-market private equity firm Gridiron Capital LLC and name veteran restaurant executive Greg MacDonald as CEO in 2013 positioned the concept for more rapid growth. Tokyo Joe’s management team has plans to expand the concept into several states over the next decade.

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