Inspired by memories of grabbing ice-cold Coca-Colas from her grandparents’ fridge, Nicole Tanner founded Swig in 2010 as a drive-thru specialty beverage chain. She fixed up a 700-square-foot building across from Utah Tech University and charged $1 for the first few months just to get people to try her original “dirty sodas.”

From 2010 to 2016, the brand grew to 16 locations, but Tanner found herself at a crossroads between corporate and franchise growth, unsure of which path to take. Capital constraints and operational pressures skewed her view.

Solidifying a partnership with Savory Fund changed the trajectory of the brand through a majority acquisition in 2017. Through help from Savory and what Swig’s current CEO Rian McCartan calls “conservative and disciplined growth,” the concept stretched to 40 units in five years.

McCartan joined the team in October 2022 and was immediately drawn to Swig’s continuous rollout of LTOs, investments in R&D, and marketing development strategies.

“[Swig] has been a champion in constantly innovating,” McCartan says. “Our ability to leverage scarcity marketing mixed with exclusivity, while gamifying customer acquisition has led to a successful enterprise.”

While Savory Fund remains an equity and operating partner driving growth for Swig, Larry H. Miller Company now owns a majority share in the business after a significant investment in 2022. The company aims to scale Swig into hundreds of locations throughout the U.S.

In February, the soda chain unveiled its franchising program, 14 years in the making. McCartan says the brand has always had a strong appetite for franchising, but waited for the right time to turn on the channel and hand-pick the best partners.

Some 250 units entered the pipeline under 12 inked partnerships in six months across seven markets: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, and Idaho.

Creating a franchise program from scratch and taking the time to learn from others allowed Swig to remain disciplined in its approach.

“Building a franchise playbook has been a unique and complex teaching experience,” McCartan adds. “Years of experience, data, and many bright minds put together will lead the way to a more enlightened franchisor-franchisee relationship.”

By leaning into saying no more than yes and emphasizing quality over quantity, McCartan believes Swig can differentiate itself from other fast-casual concepts. He says the brand wants to be able to support the right operators and take an omnichannel approach to franchising as opposed to stretching itself thin with watered-down partnerships.

As Swig extends across the U.S. and into the Southeast, McCartan is ready to be the first to market. With million-dollar AUVs out of tiny footprints, especially in Texas and Arizona, he says it’s an encouraging proof of concept outside of the brand’s home state.

Swig’s first franchise location opened in Arkansas in November, ran by grandparent-turned-operator couple Doug and Shannon Fowler, who were longtime fans hoping to bring dirty sodas closer to home.

The soda chain projects 500 committed franchise units and 70 corporate-owned stores by the end of 2023. In 2024, Swig expects to double its number of open locations through a mix of 20–25 corporate and 40–45 franchised locations.

“It’s aggressive, but we feel it’s still disciplined,” McCartan says. “We are confident we could insert over 50 corporate stores into the system next year, but we’re focusing on making sure our team’s bandwidth is positioned to support our franchise partners.”

Most of this growth will be felt in the Sunbelt, with corporate development spreading throughout Texas. Of the planned 25 company-owned stores, 15–18 will open in the Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin areas.

Franchise development in the upcoming year will see units popping up in Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Arkansas. Additionally, the brand anticipates continued inner-mountain growth in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, where it already has a strong presence.

“There’s a ton of momentum here,” McCartan shares. “We’ve tried to stay strategic in how fast we grow … and take an approach that preserves what everybody loves so much about Swig and keeps us as authentic as possible.”

Beverage, Emerging Concepts, Fast Casual, Franchising, Story, Swig