Starbird Chicken announced Monday that it received a $12 million investment to fuel the next phase of its accelerating growth strategy. 

The fundraise, led by KarpReilly, will help the fast casual develop more company-run stores and ghost kitchens, increase licensing opportunities, and launch its first franchising program. The private-equity firm manages funds and affiliates with more than $800 million in capital commitments.

“This year has been a phenomenal one for Starbird and this capital infusion is evidence that our mission to reimagine what fast food can and should be has potential for exponential growth,” founder and CEO Aaron Noveshen said in a statement. “When we created Starbird five years ago, we saw consumers were looking for more out of fast food and that there was an enormous opportunity for someone to step up and establish a new segment, which Starbird calls super-premium fast food. We’re incredibly proud to be a leader in the innovation of this space and are energized by what’s to come.”

Starbird reported in July that it expected to operate upward of 20 locations by the end of 2022, nearly tripling its footprint compared to 2020. The chain currently oversees nine locations, including five streetside units, two ghost kitchens, and a couple of other nontraditional outlets in Levi’s Stadium and San Francisco International Airport. This year, the brand has increased its presence in the Bay Area and plans to open four more locations by the end of 2021, including its first entrance into Southern California.

The franchise strategy, announced this summer, will kick off in early 2022. The chain is currently receiving consultancy from Pivotal Growth Partners, a firm that previously worked with A&W Restaurants, Baskin-Robbins, Big Boy Restaurants, Dunkin’, Long John Silver’s, Marco’s Pizza, and Yum! Brands. 

The $12 million boost comes amid same-store sales lifting 26 percent against 2020 year-to-date and 75 percent versus 2019. Starbird’s suite of virtual brands—Starbird Wings, Starbird Salads, Starbird Bowls, and plant-based Gardenbird—have consistently mixed in the double digits. 

“Over the last 18 months, consumers’ needs and wants have changed dramatically,” Ryan Greene, a principal at KarpReilly, said in a statement. “They’re interacting with restaurants in a different way and have become even more particular about what they eat and how they purchase it. Starbird has clearly demonstrated it can deliver premium, high-quality food and an unrivaled customer experience even in the most difficult operating environment. “We are proud to partner with Starbird on this investment and look forward to its continued growth as it expands its business to reach more customers in the U.S.”

Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Finance, Growth, Story, Starbird