Since opening its first restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi, in 2004, Newk’s Express Café has grown to more than 30 locations in seven primarily southeastern states. In 2010, the company partnered with Franchise Dynamics, one of the country’s leading full-service franchise sales outsourcing firms, to spearhead growth. This partnership led to seven development agreements totaling 36 restaurants in Atlanta; Knoxville; Nashville; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Raleigh; Durham; Little Rock; Bossier City, Louisiana; five cities in Missouri; and Byram, Mississippi.

Newk’s plans to open 15 more restaurants in 2011 and 25 in each of the next two years through multi-unit development partners. The company is looking to expand into new markets including Houston; Oklahoma City; Tulsa, Oklahoma.; Chicago; Louisville, Kentucky; Orlando; Cincinnati; and Richmond, Virginia.

“It’s been a great year for us,” says Chris Newcomb, CEO and president of Newk’s Express Café, who along with his father, Don Newcomb, and Debra Bryson embarked on this new pursuit following the successful sale of the McAlister’s chain they founded. “We’re excited about the growth, not only in terms of locations, but also with menu development and branding. People outside of Mississippi are starting to talk about what locals have known for years.”

The menu, available for in-restaurant dining, pick-up, or grab-n-go, includes a variety of made-to-order choices including fresh-tossed salads, oven-baked sandwiches, California-style pizzas, made-from-scratch soups, and homemade cakes baked by Newk’s Bakery Company. The average per-person check is about $11.50.

“We’re a culinary-driven concept and we wanted to make as much, if not all, of our menu items from scratch in the restaurant each day,” Newcomb says. “We grill our chicken, steak, and portabella mushroom; broil our shrimp; caramelize our onions; and make our own salad dressings and pasta salads. And that only begins to scratch the surface.”

Paying such attention to detail helped Newk’s Express Café weather and even increase sales in the economic downturn.

Newk’s Express Café saw same-store sales increase 2.6 percent in 2009, when it opened six new restaurants. Through the first 48 weeks of 2010, the chain experienced a 10 percent increase in same-store sales over the same period in 2009. Stores open at least one year had revenue between $1.2 million and $2.8 million in 2009. In addition to its franchised locations, Newk’s Express Café operates five company-owned restaurants.

Newcomb said the success of the Newk’s Express Café model is a result of the stringent processes that take place before any procedural, operational, menu or other changes are implemented throughout the chain.

“Newk’s is a ‘restaurant company,’ not a development company,” Newcomb says. “We operate company restaurants, too, so we are very much affected by any changes that are implemented in our system. We don’t just go from conceptual stage to rollout.”

The Newk’s Express Café menu was designed for timeless appeal and built around three primary components: sandwiches, salads and pizzas. Conversely, the menu also provides maximum adaptability for franchise owners to changing costs, tastes and regional preferences.