published Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Huddle House plans major expansion in the Chattanooga area

Gregg Hansen, Huddle House franchise owner, stands behind the counter for a portrait at the Huddle House restaurant on Hixson Pike in Hixson on Monday.
Gregg Hansen, Huddle House franchise owner, stands behind the counter for a portrait at the Huddle House restaurant on Hixson Pike in Hixson on Monday.
Photo by Alyson Wright.

Fast Facts

Huddle House was founded in 1964 by John Sparks.

He named the restaurant after the football huddle and wanted it to be a place where people gathered after Friday night games.

The listed franchising fee is $25,000.

Source: Huddle House

The Huddle House franchise has been growing far beyond the South in recent years, but officials with the restaurant company, which offers breakfast food 24 hours a day, said it wants to reclaim its traditional markets and plans a major expansion in the Chattanooga area.

Mark Whittle, chief development officer for Huddle House, based near Atlanta, said he sees opportunities for five additional stores on the fringes of Chattanooga, according to market research.

"Tennessee is a heritage market. ... We just think that, frankly, it's been overlooked for a while," Whittle said. "We want to make a concerted effort to come back, build new or remodel stores in our core states."

New designs for Huddle House stores are helping edge out competition from Waffle House, IHOP, Denny's and mom and pops, he said. Sales at new stores are 35 to 40 percent better than existing models, he said.

The franchise was started in 1964 in Decatur, Ga., and provides comfort food and breakfast items any time of day. Seventy percent of stores are open day and night.

And an expansion in Chattanooga is part of a larger growth plan. Overall, Whittle said Huddle House, which is open in 21 states, wants to open 30 stores in 2013. After that, officials want to expand by between 35 and 40 for each year until 2016.

The franchise will avoid large city centers and build up in small towns, he said.

This year, Huddle House opened stores in states that had never had the restaurant: Oklahoma, Kansas and Pennsylvania.

"You have to be careful," he said. "The model takes into account the competition. We won't put in a store right across the street from stores [like Waffle House or Denny's]. You have to be a little bit creative."

In addition to stand-alone stores, Whittle said officials will launch more locations at truck stops and travel centers through a partnership with Pilot Travel Centers.

Gregg Hansen owns five Huddle House restaurants on Brainerd Road, Hixson Pike and in Dunlap, Tenn.; Maryville, Tenn.; and Calhoun, Ga. He started with two five years ago, he said. All his stores were closed or owned by someone else when he took over.

"The locations I have taken over that were closed, I am really happy with," he said. "I can't comment on why they were closed. We were able to reopen them and get employees back to work."

But he said he has his eye on introducing a newly designed Huddle House to the market.

"We are always looking for expansion opportunities," he said.

People come to the restaurant, he said, because they build relationships with the staff. They become regulars and like the prices.

Recently, one of the local Huddle Houses was voted on Facebook as the favorite in the entire chain, said Hansen.

"We really make it a point to get involved in the community and do our part. I think the community recognizes that and tries to help support us," he said.

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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