Austin-based restaurant chains find opportunity in tough economy

In the past few years, the strategy for most regional restaurant chains has been: just survive.

In one of the toughest economic environments in decades, the industry norm has been cutting costs and, in many cases, closing stores. The United States saw a net loss of more than 5,500 restaurants last year, a 2 percent decline, according to industry research firm NPD Inc.

While the Austin market has fared better than the national average — the area’s restaurant growth was up 1 percent in 2010, according to NPD — it still doesn’t seem like an environment ripe for small businesses to expand. But a handful of Austin-based restaurant chains are bucking the national trend.

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