This story is featured in a TimesFreePress newscast.
80 - Salsarita's in the U.S.
10 - locations in Tennessee
4 - locations in Alabama
1 - location in Georgia
2000 - Year the first Salsarita's opened
Lovers of burritos, tacos, enchiladas and nachos, listen up: a chain of quick-service Mexican restaurants plans to open four new locations in the greater Chattanooga region by 2017.
Salsarita's will open the first new restaurant by spring 2014, said Joe Gaspard, a managing partner at Laxmi Chattanooga Inc., a Salsarita's franchisee. The company has started scouting possible locations in downtown Chattanooga, Dalton, Ga., and Cleveland.
Salsarita's includes locations in 19 states across the eastern U.S., and there's already a Salsarita's open near Hamilton Place mall.
"We're excited about this market," Gaspard said. "It was important for us to purchase this restaurant and use it as a launching pad for expanding into the market."
Gaspard and developer H.P. Patel plan to invest about $2.5 million into the four new restaurants, and will hire 60 to 100 employees.
The push into the Chattanooga market is partly driven by the city's recent industrial growth, he said, but also by Salsarita's new leadership. Salsarita CEO Phil Friedman is pushing the brand to expand exponentially across the Southeast in the next few years, planning to more than triple its franchised locations from 80 to more than 300 nationwide.
"This is part of the overall growth of Salsarita's as a brand, not just us," Gaspard said. "Ultimately we want people who are traveling through and have seen us in other markets -- Baltimore, Buffalo, wherever -- to see that Salsarita's sign and for it to mean something because they've had good experiences at the locations close to them."
Denise Davis regularly eats lunch at Salsarita's and said she's excited about the planned expansion.
"I hope they come to Cleveland because I live in Cleveland," she said with a laugh. "I love Salsarita's. There're a lot of other Mexican places, but this is better. It's faster, cleaner and the food is better."
Patel already owns seven Salsarita's in the Knoxville area, and entering the Chattanooga market was a natural expansion for him.
"We've seen tremendous growth in Knoxville, and I'm eager to carry over that success and help expand this fantastic brand throughout Tennessee," Patel said in a release.
Gaspard said the expansion is aimed at putting a Salsarita's reasonable close to as many customers as possible. The location already open on Gunbarrel Road serves about 200 customers a day, he said, and was one of the top five performing Salsarita's in the whole company last year. He hopes the future Chattanooga-area restaurants will be similarly successful.
Red Bank resident Tara Vann said she'd eat at Salsarita's more often if there was a location closer to her home. She added she thinks the city will support the expansion.
"I think it will work," she said. "Their food is better than most and if they have more locations, more people will know about them."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6525.