While the pandemic has slowed development projections for some brands, others have jumped on opportunities to expand into new and existing markets.
These 14 franchises are competitively scaling and have no plans of slowing.
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HQ: Salt Lake City
Chicken and custard franchise Super Chix has gotten off to a hot start in the new year. In January, the brand announced it signed agreements to open stores in Louisiana, which will bring at least five new restaurants to Cajun country. Just a month later, the brand announced it signed a new franchise development agreement to debut at least 23 units in the New Jersey market.
In 2022, the fast casual anticipates 16–20 openings in existing and new trade areas, and double that number in 2023. Riverton, Utah; Toledo, Ohio; San Jose, California; Peachtree City, Georgia; and Flowood, Mississippi are the next stops in March and April.
HQ: Charlotte, North Carolina
The chicken category hasn't lost much steam in the wake of the "chicken sandwich wars," and Bojangles is among the brands gearing up. The North Carolina-based chain signed agreements to grow its presence in Virginia Beach, New Jersey, Houston, and Dallas just this year alone. The Texas agreement will see up to 50 new units introduced to the market. Another separator: nearly 40 percent of sales come from the morning daypart.
Currently, the chain is primarily known throughout the Southeast, with strongholds in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia. But Bojangles wants to shed its status as a regional concept and promote contiguous growth to areas like Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York.
"We will be crossing the 1,000 mark in the next three years approximately," Chief Growth Officer Jose Costa said. "We want to be a national brand. That's what we're building toward, and the team we put in place, everyone we've hired—our dreams are big.”
Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken
HQ: Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Founded in 1966, Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken just recently announced its largest market development agreement yet. NLM Enterprises LLC and new franchisees Noman Aiyash and Leo Gonzalez inked a deal to open 12 stores in the next seven years in the Detroit area.
"This expansion really demonstrates the strength and momentum of the Lee’s brand right now and the differentiation our product offering brings to the chicken [quick-service restaurant] category,” CEO Ryan Weaver said.
In June 2021, Famous Recipe Group, parent of Lee's, announced it was selling the restaurant to LFR Chicken, a new entity backed by private equity firm Artemis Lane Partners. Terms of the deal were undisclosed, but it's structured to grow the number of Lee's stores in multiple states.
Korean fried chicken concept Bonchon already enjoys a large global footprint with units in countries like Cambodia, Myanmar, Australia, the U.S., and more.
Founded in 2002 in South Korea, Bonchon has scaled to 389 restaurants across eight countries. The global brand was brought to the U.S. in 2006 and expanded to 115 locations. All of those domestic stores, minus four, are franchised. The brand opened 11 locations in the U.S. last year, and roughly 30 more are planned for 2022, with development agreements in Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, New York, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Texas. AUV has risen to $1.39 million.
Recently, Bonchon announced it signed a franchise agreement to open six more locations throughout the DMV region, with units planned for Bethesda, Wheaton, and Silver Springs. The first location in this new agreement is expected to open by February 2023.
Bubble tea brand Gong cha has also appreciated international success to date, with more than 1,670 locations. It recently announced the signing of three master franchise agreements to kick up U.S. growth. Those deals cover expansion into Louisiana, Colorado, and Michigan. The deals are projected to add up to 60 new units across the three states over five years.
“We look forward to welcoming many new business owners who are ready to realize the untapped potential of these new markets,” Andrew Sternburg, Gong cha’s Chief Development Officer, said. “The strength and global appeal of this brand, paired with the rapidly growing popularity of bubble tea in the US, makes this an exciting opportunity for potential franchisees.”
The first units are set to open in New Orleans by spring 2022.
The Inaugural U.S. Gong cha unit opened in Fremont, California, in 2013. Since then, the brand has grown to roughly 150 domestic venues, with most located in the Eastern part of the country in states like New York, Maryland, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Washington, D.C.
Last year, Wing Zone signed agreements for 91 new shops. The brand will look to grow its presence in California, Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas.
In March, the fast casual announced the addition of three key executives to its operations and franchise development team, including the appointments of Myles Gift to vice president of operations and Omar Caton to senior director of training and quality insurance, three franchise business coaches (Per Hoddelius, Richard Colantuono, and Jason Byrd), and two new members on the real estate management team (Laura Pacino and David Tunnicliffe), and
“What we look for in our home office team are folks that profess a people-first mentality and a deep desire to help our brand to operate seamlessly and grow boundlessly,” said CEO Ashley Morris. “Myles and the rest of the franchise development and operations teams share in our culture of family, industry knowledge and experience, and visionary thinking. This all-star team is destined to accomplish great things and we look forward to a incredible future for our brand.”
HQ: Toledo, Ohio
Marco’s Pizza is on a quest to crack the top four of pizza royalty. In March, the brand announced a 46-store development agreement that will bring new stores to the Phoenix metro market over the next six years.
“We’re placing an emphasis on growing with sophisticated partners who believe in the strength of the Marco’s brand,” Keith Sizemore, vice president of development said. “When one of your seasoned, top-performing franchisees commits to 46 new stores, it speaks to the tremendous belief they have in our brand, our business model, and our people first culture.”
The pizza chain is on track to reach $1 billion in sales this year. In terms of development, the objective is 1,500 units by 2023.
The past year was a pivotal one in Potbelly’s multi-year turnaround effort. The brand reimagined the menu, upgraded its tech stack, and also brought in new corporate leaders.
Potbelly now plans to reach 2,000 stores in the U.S. over the next eight to 10 years and become at least an 85 percent franchised system. The brand ended the year with 443 units, with 90 percent being company-owned.
“As you look at where our whitespace is, we've done the market holding capacity for the entire United States in preparation for this announcement,” CEO Bob Wright said. “And we looked at all 210 of those designated TV markets across the U.S. And we see that holding capacity as really the determinant behind our confidence in the 2,000-unit goal that we're setting out.”
Pollo Campero today has 82 U.S. locations and another 270 around the world. The long-term goal is to open 250 domestic stores by 2026.
To help fuel growth, the chain recently promoted Blas Escarcega to director of franchise development. Escarcega held the position of CFO at a beverage distributorship before transitioning to Campero USA, where he first held the position of corporate controller and then corporate business partner and director of finance.
“I'm extremely honored and excited to leverage my expertise to help expand Pollo Campero’s footprint across the United States,” Escarcega said. I can’t think of a better time to launch our aggressive U.S. strategy with the leadership and talent of this team. I look forward to working with our remarkable franchisees to drive brand and business growth for this iconic brand.”
“Our strategy has been to continue building out our home markets in Texas, where fans know and love us, while also working to bring ‘The World’s Greatest Do-Nut’ to new markets like Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia and beyond,” CEO Clifton Rutledge said of the 85-year-old brand.
The Texas-based chain recently inked deals with two veteran multi-unit operators to develop an additional 20 locations throughout North and South Texas. The company currently has agreements in place to open more than 350 new locations across Texas, Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, Florida, and Colorado over the next five years.
The chain was purchased in late 2020 by an affiliate of Peak Rock Capital, which announced plans to invest in the company's growth. In conjunction with the transaction, President Lawrence Shipley III, a third generation leader, retired to focus on other family investments. The Shipley family is still invested in the company.
Island Fin Poké
Island Fin Poké just signed an agreement to bring the brand to Phoenix and Nashville. The recent deals pushed the brand to 50 locations sold systemwide.
“Reaching a total of 50 locations sold is an important benchmark goal for us and we are so grateful that our growing Ohana helped make it a reality,” said, Mark Setterington, CEO and co-founder. “I’m beyond proud of how far we have come and can’t wait to share our growing brand with the Phoenix and Nashville markets for the first time.”
The fast casual aims to have 40 stores open by the end of 2022.
Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream
HQ: Bettendorf, Iowa
Happy Joe’s, a 46-unit brand, began 2021 with 30-year industry veteran Tom Sacco as its new CEO, president, and chief happiness officer. In his first year, Happy Joe’s signed 28 new franchise deals opened five new restaurants. It marked the most openings in the past five years combined.
Happy Joe's recently signed a franchise agreement with Jeff and Jennifer Harding to bring its pizza to the Florida Panhandle. The pair is set to develop multiple locations over the next several years, with the goal of opening the first this summer.
“We’re thrilled to expand our presence in the Sunshine State,” Sacco said. “The Panhandle region of Florida will soon be able to experience Happy Joe’s version of a slice of paradise with our one-of-a-kind, gourmet pizza creations and celebratory, family-friendly atmosphere.
This is the second multi-unit Florida expansion deal in the last six months for the Iowa-based brand.
HQ: San Diego
Last year, QDOBA inked 60 franchise commitments, and in February, the quick-serve announced a multi-unit development agreement to bring 30 locations to Florida, which represented the largest franchise deal in brand history.
“This deal is a tremendous step for QDOBA, and it further situates us as the key player in the Mexican fast casual segment,” Jim Sullivan, CDO at QDOBA, said. “Franchising with QDOBA gives operators the ability to grow with a nationally recognized brand that offers a great return on investment and tremendous corporate support.”
This deal materialized during an aggressive growth phase for the brand. The chain is eyeing 2,000 units.
The Habit Burger Grill
HQ: Irvine, California
The Habit Burger Grill recently signed a development agreement with Karnardo Garnett, CEO of Legacy Hospitality Companies, to add 10 locations to the Tampa Bay market.
“We are excited to make our debut in the Tampa Bay area with a strong and skilled operator like Karnardo,” Habit Burger CEO Russ Bendel said. “His belief in our brand on top of his vast industry experience will set us up for success to grow throughout the state of Florida and flourish.”
With backing from parent company Yum! Brands, the 300-unit fast casual will look to expand into several markets in the Southeast and East Coast.