Salsarita’s, the Fresh Mexican Cantina with locations across the country, has announced a development agreement that will bring three new restaurants to Lexington, Kentucky, by the end of 2016 as it expands nationally through franchising.

Long-time local residents Bill and Holli Gibson will introduce Salsarita’s to Lexington. The Gibsons expect to open the first restaurant in early 2014 in Lexington’s Hamburg Place neighborhood. 

The couple hopes to open future restaurants in southern Fayette County, as well as near the University of Kentucky campus.

Holli Gibson was born and raised in nearby Paris, Kentucky, where she and Bill have resided for more than 20 years.

The Gibsons have no shortage of business experience. Bill Gibson has worked in the finance industry for more than 15 years, and Holli Gibson owned and operated a retail gift store for 10 years.

She now owns and operates HHG Photography, a portrait studio in Paris.

Long before deciding to become Salsarita’s owners, the Gibsons were fans of the brand.

“We first ate at Salsarita’s in 2011 when we stopped at the Knoxville restaurant while traveling,” Holli Gibson says. “We were immediately impressed with the brand. The food was delicious, and the service and ambiance of the restaurant really stood out. Over the past two years, we’ve sought out Salsarita’s restaurants in Jacksonville and Louisville, and now we’re excited to bring the brand to our hometown.”

The Gibsons have teamed with a local restaurant industry veteran, who will serve as the company’s managing partner and handle the day-to-day operations of the business.

“Salsarita’s has been operating in Kentucky for more than 10 years, and our restaurants, two in Louisville and one in Owensboro, have been very successful,” says Chris Bailey, vice president of franchise development for Salsarita’s. “We plan to open at least a dozen locations across the state over the next five years, with five to seven of those planned for the greater Lexington metropolitan area.”   

In addition to the development deal in Lexington, Salsarita’s has acquired five franchised-owned locations in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.

The acquisition comes as part of Salsarita’s long-term plan to corporately own 10–15 percent of its restaurants nationwide, focusing on North and South Carolina, as it expands nationally through franchising.

“Corporate expansion is incredibly important for us here at Salsarita’s,” says Phil Friedman, CEO of Salsarita’s. “By expanding our restaurant ownership in our home market, we can continue to build an industry-leading franchise support team more effectively, test new products and strategies, and, most importantly, better understand the needs of our franchisees by facing the same operational challenges they do.”

Four of the locations acquired are in Charlotte. The fifth store is located in Huntersville, North Carolina. 

With this acquisition, the corporation now owns seven of Salsarita’s more than 80 existing locations and plans to develop several additional sites over the next few years.

Eight corporately owned restaurants are planned in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) by 2018; two to three each in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point, North Carolina; two to three in Columbia, South Carolina, and four to six more in Charlotte, where the brand is headquartered.

“Salsarita’s has proven to be highly successful across the Carolinas, and we are eager to continue the brand’s growth in its home region and beyond,” says company president Larry Reinstein. “By adding new corporate locations, we will be able to target new development and real estate opportunities that were previously unexplored.”

Founded in 2000 in Charlotte, Salsarita’s offers Mexican favorites like signature Casaritos, Mexican pizza–inspired Cantizzas, and an assortment of tacos, quesadillas, and nachos made fresh to order with an extensive selection of proteins, toppings, and fillings, as well as six house-made salsas.

The company has more than 80 franchised locations in 19 states. Salsarita’s expects to have at least 10 new restaurants and four to six franchise agreements signed before the end of 2013, with long-range projections calling for more than 300 locations nationwide over the next several years.

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