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The next Chipotle? One firm thinks it could happen

Searching for the next big hit

Food preparation at a Chipotle restaurant
Getty Images

With a Henry Ford-esque assembly line and a streamlined menu, Chipotle has made a lasting mark on the restaurant industry, and its stock price reflects that.

Since debuting in 2006, shares have surged about 3,200 percent.

Investor appetite has not just been limited to the Mexican chain. Recently, many fast casual restaurants—an industry term for restaurants serving more premium ingredients at slightly higher prices than fast food—have hit the market and seen strong demand.

For investors who want to get in on Chipotle-like growth at an earlier stage, PrivCo recently released a report about five chains that could be the next fast casual hit.

Read More 10 restaurant chains with the best buzz

To find them, the firm sifted through roughly 850,000 private companies in the database. It focused on fast casual chains that were still relatively early in their growth stage but had already demonstrated a track record of success. PrivCo took into account investor interest, client interest and media coverage to narrow the list down.

So which chains have the potential to generate big returns just like Chipotle, according to PrivCo?

Click ahead to read more.

By Katie Little, Staff Writer, CNBC.com
Updated 22 September 2015
Posted 25 July 2015

Moe’s Southwest Grill

The Homewrecker chicken burrito.
Moe's Southwest Grill

"Welcome to Moe's!" is the standard greeting when customers enter one of this Focus Brands' unit's restaurants. PrivCo is similarly enthusiastic about the company's prospects. Founded in 2000 in Atlanta, the company has grown fast. With a menu that ranges from burritos with offbeat names like the Homewrecker (pictured here) to quesadillas to nachos, it has a large combination of orders—just like Chipotle. One thing they do not have: A microwave.

Locations: More than 600 restaurants in 37 states

Expansion plans: Moe's has inked deals for 145 units in markets including Cleveland, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, Phoenix, Tucson, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.

It also plans to further develop in the western part of the country.


Sweetgreen

Sweetgreen’s Guacamole Greens salad, left, and custom salad made with sustainable farm-raised Verlasso salmon from Chile.
Sweetgreen

Founded in 2007 in D.C., this restaurant chain sells a variety of grain bowls and salads, using local and organic ingredients.

Locations: 31 locations along the East Coast and California.

Expansion plans: The company plans to add another 10 locations this year, including additional restaurants in California.


Maple

Maple's Vadouvan Curry Baked Chicken.
Maple

Another entry in the food delivery space, Maple wants to set itself apart with a menu that changes daily and incorporates local and sustainable ingredients. The restaurant-quality dishes that run around $12 each.

Availability: Currently the service only operates in New York City's Financial District neighborhood, serving addresses below Chambers Street, with plans to add additional markets in the future.


Protein Bar

Protein Bar's Guac & Roll.
Protein Bar

With a wide-ranging menu of quinoa bowls, salads and bar-itos (think of a burrito but with quinoa instead of rice), Protein Bar is another restaurant capitalizing on healthier-minded diners with an emphasis on protein. Its founder opened the first location after dropping 60 pounds while on a diet high in protein.

Locations: 20 locations


Veggie Grill

The Veggie Grill's Grilled Quinoa & Veg Burger.
The Veggie Grill

Started in 2006, the company is a veggie-centric concept where meat, eggs, dairy are not on the menu.

Greg Dollarhyde, former CEO of Zoe's Kitchen and Baja Kitchen, said the chain's food sets out to be "more innovative and craveable than other vegetarian food."

Locations: 29 locations.

Expansion plans: "Over the next two years, we plan to expand outside of the West Coast, and we're looking at licensing outside of the country," Dollarhyde said in a phone interview.