By Karen Axelton

As another Thanksgiving weekend falls behind us and we all loosen our belts another notch, now is the time to look at a trend that’s been going on for a while, but shows no signs of stopping: comfort food.

Americans traditionally turn to comfort food in times of distress—the last big upsurge in comfort food eating took place after 9/11. So in today’s economic turmoil, it’s not surprising that restaurants, supermarkets and food businesses of all kinds are seeing an upswing in demand for macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, burgers, fried chicken and the like.

Entrepreneurs are taking these comforting foods and putting a gourmet spin on them. QSR Magazine reports on an entrepreneur whose trip to New York inspired him to start a macaroni and cheese “bar” named Macdaddy’s. “Our motto is comfort food for discomforting times,” founder Robert Dunn says. But with ingredients like crimini and shitake mushrooms, porcini emulsion, manchego cheese, truffle oil, caramelized onions and applewood bacon, this isn’t Grandma’s mac and cheese. Dunn already has customers asking him if the concept is a franchise.

Another comfort food entrepreneur, Wendy Bruley, has begun franchising her Chedd’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese concept and hopes to expand to 100 units in 10 years. Like Dunn, Bruley’s menu focuses on comfort—with equally comforting side dishes like milkshakes and tomato soup—but puts a gourmet, custom twist on the concept.

Meanwhile, New York Magazine has published several articles chronicling city’s “fried-chicken frenzy.” Perhaps the most encompassing is this overview, which assesses the different kinds of options—from greasy-spoon shacks to white-tablecloth-type restaurants, each putting their own spin on this old standard.

With winter here, even those Americans who’ve been able to resist comfort food until now are likely to give in. If you own a restaurant, catering business or other food-service establishment, what kind of comfort dish can you add to the menu? Think innovative, value, fresh and (relatively) healthy ingredients, and you’re pretty much guaranteed a sure thing.