Fast-casual chicken chain Zaxby’s has signed its first franchise agreement in Utah, the furthest west the company has ever gone.
MJM 5G, LLC now has exclusive rights to Zaxby’s in Utah, the company said in a statement. The franchisee plans to open 18 locations during the next five years, with the first two scheduled to open by the end of 2013.
The first unit in Utah will likely open in November or December, said Blake Bailey, chief financial officer at Zaxby’s.
“It’s a great opportunity that came to us through three great guys,” Bailey said. “They called us, and so that’s got us looking at the Salt Lake area. They tried other chicken concepts and came across Zaxby’s and thought it was the best chicken concept out there.”
Most Zaxby’s locations are based in the southeast United States, where the brand has a loyal following, Bailey said. The company is based in Athens, Ga., and has 577 locations systemwide.
In a statement, chief executive and co-founder Zach McLeroy said Utah’s strong regional economy enticed Zaxby’s to move into the state.
“There’s not a lot of competition in the chicken segment, and we’ll capitalize on that,” McLeroy said. “We’re expanding westward and solidifying our brand foundation market by market as we go, so a multi-unit licensing agreement that covers the entire state will give us strategic efficiencies in marketing and awareness as our new partners build out the operating area.”
Utah is a good fit for the Zaxby’s brand because it has a youthful demographic, added Bailey. “Like we say in Atlanta, everybody’s from somewhere else,” Bailey said. “You have a lot of young people starting careers [in Salt Lake City].”
“Our menu is kind of adventurous and appeals to a younger segment mostly,” he said, adding that both Zaxby’s and Utah represent a “good cross-section of the country.” The company’s best-selling item is chicken fingers, which are served with crinkle-cut fries. Salads, like the limited-time Cobb salad and premium milkshakes are also staples on the menu.
The company is also open to continued expansion in other western states, including Nevada and Arizona, Bailey said. Other target markets for Zaxby’s expansion include Indianapolis, Ind.; Dayton, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Texas and Louisiana.
Zaxby’s joins other East Coast brand aiming to move west. Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Donuts will open its first Utah location in Salt Lake City on June 25.
Zaxby’s has not yet had to recruit any franchisees out west, Bailey said, but the company hopes to get the message out that franchising is open for business. The goal is to have franchisees come to Zaxby’s — not the other way around.
“We want somebody who really wants us. We want to be wanted,” he said. “If you have to ask, you think: How committed are you really going to be?”
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