Newk’s Eatery, the fast-casual brand known for its culinary-driven menu prepared in open kitchens, will open more than 25 new company-owned and franchise restaurants in the Southeast next year and is actively engaged with experienced multiunit operators in new markets to add to the growth.

The fast-growing company’s announcement comes as Newk’s ramps up its franchise growth plans and wraps up 2014. In total, the company expects 16 percent new store growth in 2014, including six franchise locations set to open in November and December.

Demand is growing for Newk’s unique brand of fast casual, which blends a fine dining experience with fast-casual lunch and dinner fare like hot sandwiches, salads, soups, and California-style pizza.

“Our growth to date has been calculated as we tested and ultimately proved our concept,” says Newk’s president and CEO Chris Newcomb, who founded the company in 2004. “In 2014, we saw much higher than average growth in existing and new units, and we are ready to build on our strong foundation.”

Over the past two and a half years, the company has doubled its store count to more than 70 units. Private equity firm Sentinel Capital Partners acquired a majority interest in the company in Q1 2014, setting a strong foundation for the brand. To further bolster growth, the chain added two new leadership positions, chief operating officer and chief development officer, filled by industry veterans Jim Greco and Chris Cheek, respectively.

“Fast casual continues to be a driving force in the restaurant industry, and we are taking the segment to a new level with the finest ingredients and hospitality,” Greco says. “With our differentiated position in a thriving category, Newk’s is a compelling franchise opportunity.”

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Fast Casual, Growth, News, Newk's Eatery