The 10-year-old fast casual Newk’s Eatery brand hired franchise development veteran Chris Cheek to oversee the company’s aggressive growth both through new, seasoned multiunit franchise operators and through expanded area development agreements with existing Newk’s franchisees. As chief development officer, Cheek will help meet the company’s goal of growing the group of nearly 70 Southeastern restaurants to 200 by 2019, and continue building a pipeline for long-term expansion.

“We have reached a point in the company’s growth that it makes sense to bring franchise development in house,” says Newk’s Eatery founder and CEO Chris Newcomb. “With a team exclusively dedicated to franchise development, we will best be able to identify experienced franchisees with operating capacity and investment capabilities to grow with the Newk’s brand.”

Cheek and his team will identify potential franchise partners, assist in sourcing, and identify real estate, as well as ensure that the real estate and construction phases of new company-owned and franchise restaurants meet the company’s growth targets. Earlier this year, Newk’s Eatery received investment capital from New York–based private equity firm Sentinel Capital to invest in franchise and company-owned restaurant expansion. As part of its growth plan, Cheek and his team will build a more condensed brand footprint within the Southeast and initiate growth contiguously along the East Coast and into the lower Midwest.

“My passion lies in the fast-casual dining industry, where the trend is toward culinary, freshly prepared, and scratch-made meals. That’s the cornerstone of the Newk’s brand,” Cheek says. “But it’s the unit-level economics that I believe make it one of the best kept secrets in the restaurant industry. Nobody takes a culinary approach to food and an open kitchen concept in a fast-casual setting like Newk’s. ”

Cheek’s business development experience includes franchise program development for Freebirds World Burrito and redevelopment of the franchise program for Bruegger’s bakery-cafes. While leading Bruegger’s franchising program, Cheek secured development commitments for both traditional and nontraditional venues, as well as oversaw the opening of 100 stores in 22 states. Under the ownership of Le Duff America, which purchased Bruegger’s in 2012, he served as vice president of development for Breugger’s, Timothy’s World Coffee, Michel’s Bakery Cafe, la Madeline Country French Cafe, and Brioche Doree. Cheek began his career with Bear Rock Cafe and served most recently as chief development officer for Toppers Pizza.

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