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Potbelly, founded in the north side of Chicago in 1977, now has over 200 restaurants in 12 states. All are company owned.
Literally thousands of people interested in having their very own Potbelly franchise restaurant have made inquiries over the years, but the company was simply not franchising. Bryant Keil, chairman of the board and former CEO, who bought the original Potbelly location in 1996, grew the company to 200-plus locations. He explains his reluctance to franchise by saying he wanted to keep the individuality of the stores and didn't want to see the company turn into just another fast food chain.
When Aylwin Lewis, president and CEO, joined the firm in June 2008, Potbelly began a firm tilt in the direction of franchising. Lewis had been at one time COO of giant Yum! Brands, parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silver's and A&W, and had worked decades in the restaurant industry.
Potbelly's ideal franchisee candidates, the company explains, are married couples and life-partner teams who are "sincere about integrating Potbelly into the fabric of their communities."
Enter first franchisees Arturo Daly and Danytsia Enriquez, who are set to open in El Paso, Texas by the end of the year. They fit "perfectly with our brand," says Lewis.
Franchisees are limited to operating just one restaurant, but may be able to open more in the future.