The casual-dining sector has become a hot slice of the market, creating what some analysts call the "Chipotle effect." The National Restaurant Association estimates casual-dining sales at $709 billion for 2015. Last year, consumers spent an estimated $21 billion at eateries like Freshii, which offer healthier menus and convenient service.
It took only nine years for Freshii locations to crack triple digits, versus 13 years for Subway, 19 for the Golden Arches and 20 for Starbucks. Freshii founder Matthew Corrin attributes its growth to being at the intersection of three global trends — health and wellness, millennial consumer demand and entrepreneurship opportunities.
"The definition of healthy eating has evolved from 'fresh as opposed to fried,' to something very different," he told CNBC. "As long as we continue to execute over time, Freshii can meet a growing healthy demand."
Freshii was started in 2005, and by the end of this year plans to operate 200 units in 80 cities and 15 countries. Global expansion is important, Corrin said, as the restaurant seeks to be able to adapt to new cultures in a changing marketplace. The strategy seeks to suit the needs of consumers.
"You're seeing the mass population understand the importance of healthy eating," he said. "You can't eat burgers, fries and pizza everyday."
Fast-casual visits have increased by 5 to 9 percent each year over the past five years, according to NPD Group, a market research firm. Nearly half of fast casual meals occurs at lunch, while 33 percent are at dinner.
Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant group analyst at NPD, said there's still a growing market for consumers wanting lightly prepared meals with fresh ingredients in a fast-casual setting.
"Their check size is quite higher and because these concepts are meeting customer expectations, they're willing to pay the price," she told CNBC.