By Linda Dailey Paulson Although big burger boys dominate the quick-service landscape in most of North America, in one midwest town a homegrown chain has made a niche for itself and is continuing to grow into what might well become a formidable business.

Why it bears watching

Spangles is an interesting regional player with momentum and a loyal customer base, not to mention an all-American appeal. It appears the Stevens have the cash flow to fund
this steady growth. As expansion takes place with the new decor, Spangles deserves scrutiny, especially to see whether it can continue to grow into a strong regional player on a par with other regional players like In-n-Out Burger, without franchising.

Spangles is a Wichita-based restaurant chain with fourteen locations that bills itself as “adult fast-food.” They differentiate their fare from the other guys with the slogan “Made fresh. Made to order. Just tastes better.”

“I just wanted to last six months with the first store when we started in 1978,” says Dale Steven, vice president and co-founder. “It was a long process and a struggle for several years.”

The struggle is seemingly over. According to the Wichita Business Journal, Spangles is now “one of the area’s largest fast-food chains, with sales expected to hit more than $15 million during the next twelve months.” This Steven confirms.

Steven founded the chain with his brother, Craig, who serves as the company president, and rightly so. “He’s older,” says Dale Steven. The brothers started by assuming the lease on a failing restaurant and have since built a chain of fifteen. Eleven of the locations are in Wichita; the rest are located throughout Kansas.

Now the brothers plan to open one unit every three months. They’ve signed contracts on three new units, all in Kansas, where they’re concentrating growth for the time being to maximize the impact of advertising. “Our first goal is to expand inside Kansas cities,” says Dale Steven. “Then, eventually, we would like to be a large chain. That’s been our sole intention.” All the stores are company owned, and there are no plans to franchise in the near future.

Spangles offers a variety of items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including burgers, bagel breakfast sandwiches, chicken and turkey pita sandwiches, and baked potatoes. Side offerings include french fries and onion rings, shakes, and many more dishes. Fifty percent of the chain’s business is drive-thru. One location is open twenty-four hours. They accept credit cards and checks.

What differentiates its operations from its competitors is certainly the food, according to Steven. That freshness is the edge. “We also have great people working for us. We have a very loyal staff.” The senior staff, says Steven, has remained constant, with several key people having tenures of between thirteen to fifteen years.

Another factor that will no doubt set Spangles apart is its new retro architecture. These newest locations will sport a diner decor with silvery stainless-steel art deco structures. Interiors will include plentiful neon, tableside jukeboxes, and lots of ’50s touches.

“It will have a diner atmosphere that will be fun,” says Steven. “We will have a lot of artifacts on the walls—old guitars, pictures, and a loud jukebox playing ’50s diner music. There are no true fast-food restaurants like this. There are lots of sit-down restaurants like this but you have never seen a true fast-food restaurant that has gone to the levels we have to be so gorgeous. We’ve got glass blocks on the ceilings. It’s really going to be beautiful.”