Smashburger has partnered with a former Yum! Brands Inc. executive for its initial push into Latin America, the company said Thursday.
The Denver-based fast-casual burger chain signed a master franchise agreement with international franchising veteran Richard Eisenberg, whose company, QSR International, committed to opening 18 Smashburger restaurants in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Eisenberg, a former general manager and executive director of Yum’s Central America, Caribbean and Northern Latin America divisions, developed the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell brands there. QSR International has opened 120 restaurants in 13 countries for the KFC, Quiznos and Teriyaki Experience chains.
Eisenberg’s first Smashburger unit is expected to open in Costa Rica later this year, the burger chain said.
Smashburger chair and chief executive Dave Prokupek said the Latin American region is attractive in part because tourism is on the rise in certain areas, and there is little fast-casual segment competition there.
“Most restaurants are casual-dining or quick-service brands,” he said. “It’s an opportunity and a risk, but there’s no shortage of people looking for great food.”
Meanwhile, the company said it is looking for other experienced multi-unit franchise operators to further expand the brand throughout the region, including in Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.
In the Caribbean, Smashburger is looking to open restaurants in Aruba, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic and Saint Maarten. In South America, it is weighing growth in Ecuador and Venezuela.
Smashburger made its first move overseas last year with the signing of a franchise agreement in the Middle East, with multiple units planned for Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia over the next several years.
In November, the company also said it would begin opening corporate locations in Canada in 2012, with the goal of sparking franchise development there.
Smashburger also has identified the United Kingdom as a potential international market for the rapidly growing burger brand.
Developed and owned by private-equity firm Consumer Capital Partners, Smashburger operates or franchises 143 locations across the United States.
In 2012, the company has plans to open a total of 65 to 75 new restaurants. Franchisees are expected to open 50 to 60 units, including the international locations, and the company is planning 15 to 20 openings, including the two units scheduled to debut in Canada.