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The five most lucrative restaurant franchises

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(Read caption) A sign is seen at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant in San Francisco, California, in this file photo taken July 21, 2015. Despite some supply chain issues, Chipotle is one of the fastest growing fast-casual chains.

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McDonald's tops the list as the nation's number one fast food chain in terms of volume, followed by Subway, Burger King, and Wendy's. But as consumers continue to reach for healthier alternatives, there's a new type of restaurant joining the spotlight. They are called fast-casual dining restaurants, and their rapid growth and seemingly overnight popularity have would-be investors wondering how they can get in on the action.

Below, we've listed some of the nation's fastest-growing (and most profitable) fast-casual chains. Consider these five lucrative franchise and investment options.

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1. Chipotle [NYSE: CMG]

$4.11 Billion Total Revenue

Unfortunately, the lucrative Mexican grill does not franchise. All of its 1200 stores are company owned. But, you can still invest by loading up on shares of the company's stock, currently trading on the NYSE at roughly $730 per share.

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2. Panera [NASDAQ: PNRA]

$2.53 Billion Total Revenue

Panera Bread Co., formerly Au Bon Pain Co., has a regional franchise model that requires investors to open at least 15 stores in a designated territory over a six-year period. Interested investors must also demonstrate a track record of success operating multi-unit restaurants. The company lists its franchise criteria online:

  • Average unit volume: $2.1 million
  • Franchise costs and fees: $942,000–$1.6 million
  • Initial investment: $35,000

3. Buffalo Wild Wings [NASDAQ: BWLD]

$1.52 Billion Total Revenue

To open your very own Buffalo Wild Wings, all you need is to meet the capital requirements and an area development commitment of at least two stores. International franchise opportunities are also available for the Mexico, Middle East, and Philippines. The company offers more insight about its franchise program:

  • Average unit volume: $3.28 million
  • Franchise costs and fees: $800,000–$2.4 million
  • Initial investment: $40,000

4. Noodles & Company [NASDAQ: NDLS]

$403.74 Million Total Revenue

Noodles & Company is seeking franchise operators for regional opportunities available in most parts of the United States, with the exception of some northern regions. With a commitment to opening three to five restaurants in your region over a five-year period, you could be on your way to becoming a fundamental part of the Noodles & Company brand.

  • Average unit volume: $1 million+
  • Franchise costs and fees: $483,733–$1.2 million
  • Initial investment: $35,000

5. El Pollo Loco [NASDAQ: LOCO]

$344.86 Million Total Revenue

Single unit franchise opportunities are available throughout the Southwest with particular emphasis on other major cities, including Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon.

  • Average unit volume: $1.8 million
  • Franchise cost and fees: $502,000–$1.1 million
  • Initial investment: $40,000

This article first appeared at Wise Bread.