Potbelly's Evolution from Antique Shop to Rapidly Growing Nationwide Brand
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Potbelly's Evolution from Antique Shop to Rapidly Growing Nationwide Brand

Potbelly's Evolution from Antique Shop to Rapidly Growing Nationwide Brand

Leading Neighborhood Sandwich Shop Has Franchising Opportunities Available Across the Country

Potbelly Sandwich Works traces its origins back to 1977, inside a small antique store in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Run by Peter Hastings and his wife, the shop initially focused on selling refurbished, vintage Potbelly stoves, but to enhance business, they began making sandwiches for their customers. What began as a side venture soon became a hit, drawing in guests who were more interested in the Hastings’ delicious sandwiches and homemade desserts than the antiques.

Over time, the shop evolved, adding booths, ovens to toast the sandwiches, hand-dipped ice cream, live music, and more. Today, Potbelly is rapidly growing its footprint through strategic franchise development and continuing to evolve, driven by its legacy of culinary innovation and community engagement.

But first, let’s rewind the clock and dive deeper into how Potbelly became a beloved brand, well-positioned for nationwide growth.

From a Single Shop to Thriving Chain

After nearly two decades, Bryant Keil, an entrepreneurial visionary and regular visitor at Potbelly, bought the original shop in Chicago in the 1990s. With an eye for preserving the charm and quality of the brand, Keil sought out opportunities to strategically expand Potbelly's presence in Chicago and beyond. He focused on selecting high-traffic locations while taking care to keep the cozy, nostalgic ambiance that defined the original shop. This commitment to authenticity drove Potbelly's growth, transforming it from a single shop to a nationwide brand, with hundreds of locations across the country.

Becoming a Publicly Traded Company

On October 4, 2013, Potbelly took a significant step when it became a publicly traded company, giving the brand an opportunity to share its story with an even broader audience and the resources to further innovate and expand. Since then, Potbelly has invested in systemwide initiatives to benefit the business, such as introducing a new menu, launching the Potbelly mobile app and website, and enhancing its Perks loyalty program.

From Corporate Store Growth to Franchising

In 2020, Bob Wright was appointed Chief Executive Officer. A long-time restaurant executive for other concepts including Wendy’s, Wright introduced a five-pillar growth plan, which put increased emphasis on franchising. Franchise Focused Development is now a top priority for Potbelly, and in 2023 Wright hired Lynette McKee, CFE as Senior Vice President of Franchising to lead the initiative. Under McKee’s leadership, Potbelly is now in the midst of its most robust development cycle in recent years, and the brand remains focused on its long-term goal of reaching 2,000 shops with 85% of those shops being franchised. Potbelly continues to drive strong average unit volumes (AUVs) and roll out initiatives to drive growth across new and existing markets, including introducing a new digital-centric store design, building out comprehensive franchisee support, and increasing investments in marketing to drive shop traffic and increase guest loyalty.

Hungry for Growth?

Potbelly is seeking experienced, multi-unit operators who are interested in growing their portfolio to build shops across the country. If interested, visit potbelly.com/franchising or join our informational webinar on 5/30.

Potbelly Sandwich Works
With a 46-year track record, 1.3M+ Avg. Gross Sales* and flexible footprints, Potbelly is a perfect addition to your portfolio. *Top 25% of franchised Potbelly shops operating during 12-period timeframe in 2022. Learn More

Published: May 29th, 2024

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