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These restaurant brands are targetting Utah for expansion

Flower Child (Flower Child)

At the start of the year, you might recall I gazed into the old crystal ball to come up with these prognostications for 2024. While some are still bubbling away, one divination is proving increasingly true – the chains are coming in their droves.

Love em or loath em’ – big brands are lining up to stake their claim in the Beehive. And who could blame them? In recent years we’ve seen several dining debutantes causing myriad column inches and traffic jams – Jack In The Box, Raising Cane’s, Shake Shack, and more. So what’s next for Utah? You might be surprised to learn that it’s an increasingly diverse mix:

Flower Child

Sam Fox – eleven-time James Beard-nominated restauranteur – is the name behind this big new play coming to town. Now in the hands of the Cheesecake Factory (who will open a new Orem location any day now), Flower Child is expected to open in Salt Lake City by the second half of 2024 and according to an early press release, “is a place where you can come and fill your soul (and belly) with goodness.”

The health-focused brand will launch its concept into the revamped Foothill Village (1414 S. Foothills Drive), launching a menu that caters to a variety of diners, including those with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets. Speaking of which, highlights according to the company’s early release materials include, ” indulgences like the Mother Earth Bowl with ancient grains, sweet potato, portobello mushroom, avocado, cucumber, broccoli pesto, charred onion, leafy greens, red pepper miso vinaigrette, and hemp seed; the infamous oh-so-creamy, gluten-free Mac & Cheese with aged white cheddar and parmesan; the Chicken Enchiladas with guajillo chile, smoked gouda, poblano cream, organic black bean, roasted corn, and avocado; the Flying Avocado Wrap with smoked turkey, gouda, romaine, tomato, and avocado hummus; and the Brussels Sprouts & Organic Kale salad with red grape, organic apple, pink grapefruit, white cheddar, smoked almond, and apple cider vinaigrette.”

With consumer tastes changing, Flower Child is just one of several new fast-casual concepts that are trying to crack the code to fast and healthy.

la Madeleine

Founded in Dallas in 1983, this fast-casual offers up “approachable French cuisine” – and in doing so it has grown to over 90 locations across the United States and internationally. Per a presser I recently received, the French-founded and owned la Madeleine is currently expanding franchise opportunities throughout the U.S. – including Utah. Locally the group hopes to open eight locations, each employing 25-30 full-time and part-time employees.

la Madeleine COO Christine Johnson writes, “We are excited to introduce our high-quality and unique French fare into new cities across the country by extending our franchise opportunities. For over 40 years, la Madeleine has been a beloved franchise concept. We eagerly look forward to welcoming new partners who will open cafes and introduce new guests to cherished brand classics like croque monsieur, quiche Florentine and, of course, our famous tomato basil soup.”

I doubt we’ll see drive-through duck confit any day soon, but hey, it beats queuing in line for a grisly gray burger and washed-up bun huh?

Vicious Biscuit

This story over in QSR Magazine confirmed that the Southeast-based VB is plotting to open five locations of their biscuit-forward business here in Utah. According to the brand, “Breakfast is more than just a meal; it’s an experience that sets the tone for your day. But why limit yourself? Take your morning ritual to new heights and say goodbye to ordinary breakfast spreads. Treat yourself to our twists on classic and elevating them into culinary masterpieces.”

VB sprang to life in Mount Pleasant, SC back in 2018. As you might gather from the name, the menu centers around “over-the-top Southern biscuit creations”, with plenty of playful whimsy stirred into the mix. Dishes such as the fat boy, the flame thrower, and the vicious had locals lining the block in South Carolina. Expansion followed with locations in North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio following in due course. According to QSR Mag, “The team plans to open five new locations along the I-15 corridor, covering a significant stretch of Utah. T”his strategic move is set to introduce a fresh and dynamic dining option to various parts of the state, known for its chain-dominated restaurant market.”

Pepper Lunch

News broke at the start of the year that this Japanese-based fast casual would be coming to Utah. Operating more than 500 locations in over a dozen countries, Gemba Partners was named to launch five units over three years in the state – the first expected before the close of 2024. Gemba is the work of Utahn’s Charles and Catherine Johnson, who have bags of prior experience in the hospitality industry at high levels – the duo working at names such as PF Chang’s and St Regis Deer Valley respectively.

Pepper Lunch first flickered to life in Tokyo, back in 1994, originally launching as a DIY teppanyaki spot. Four years later, in the company’s own words, “we introduced the world to a delightful promise – ‘Sizzle It Your Way.’ Our patented high-energy on-demand induction cookers along with our tailor-made iron plates brought the allure of cooking directly to the table, transforming mundane meals into unforgettable feasts, a concept that resonated with food lovers globally.”

With DIY cooking (I’m looking at you, never-ending hot pot spots) continuing to be a popular dining format I imagine this one will be well received.


While there’s been no formal announcement of this one headed to Utah – there’s a very real possibility that might change – as and when a suitable potential franchisee steps forward that is. After the traditionally Southeast U.S.-based chain went private in 2018 the company has been on an explosive growth trajectory as reported by NRN. The NRN article specifically cites Utah as targeted for expansion, albeit with a pared-down menu approach.

Additionally, on the brand’s franchisee information page Utah is specifically noted as an available market for would-be operators; and one I should add that’s been very good to recent chicken-forward newcomers, the likes of Popeye’s and Raising Canes. One can’t help but think Bojangles menu of fried chicken and biscuits would be anything other than another runaway success.

Clean Eatz

After winning 2023’s “Fork-A-Franchise Giveaway” Salt Laker’s Amanda Hatfield and Suraj Manikundalam were named as the operators for a Utah location of Clean Eatz; the aforementioned competition allowing the winners to join the franchise as owners “without incurring the traditional franchise costs”. Clean Eatz operates more than 100 locations nationally, and as you’d expect, focuses on healthy eats. Burgerz, wrapz, bowlz, they’re all here with a z – as well as a fairly unique weekly meal plan option too.

Pita Pit

April saw news confirmed that this Meditaranean-focused chain is looking to expand operations in the state. KSL added that as many as ten new locations might come online. With existing locations in Ogden and Provo, expect the brand’s growth plans to fill the space in between. Stuffed pita and loaded bowls are the main components of a generally Greek-leaning menu. Yes, there’s a gyro, yes I’m trying it, I try them all. Ask me about Arby’s gyro efforts next time you see me…

Port Of Subs

Another brand with an existing Utah presence, also looking to grow further – this sandwich-focused concept. March saw news confirmed that the Nevada-based chain will be expanding further in Utah amidst overall brand growth.

Looking once more into the crystal ball

Looking ahead, it’s obvious more will follow the names above, but who? Allow me a few more predictions if you will.

South Block

While no announcement has been made about potential Utah operations, I’d say it’s a safer bet than the craps table. This Virginia-based brand specializes in made-to-order smoothies, acai bowls, toasts, and cold-pressed juices.  Founded in 2011, South Block now has 15 locations across Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland. It’s also the latest company to link up with Utah-based Savory Fund.

The investment in South Block came shortly after the fund backed Houston TX Hot Chicken – the chicken chain that replaced Crack Shack around the state. With Savory already also operating Swig, Mo’ Bettah’s Via 313 and R&R BBQ in Utah – no one would be surprised if the group also deployed this one locally.

RA Sushi

Another supposition from the recesses of my hungry mind – but as above – let’s look at the owner’s recent moves. In March, One Group acquired Safflower Holdings – which I am guessing means little to you. If I told you One Group operates STK and Kona Grill, while Safflower runs Benihana and RA Sushi, I’m guessing the puzzle pieces are starting to form in your mind’s eye.

One’s downtown SLC STK launched only a few months after the group debuted Kona Grill out in Riverton’s Mountain View Village. Meanwhile, Benihana has operated in the capital city for what seems like forever. It doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to foresee the group – presumably now having a substantial operational presence in the state – also eyeing the region to scale RA too.

Bobby’s Burgers

The Bobby Flay-backed burger concept still lists Salt Lake City as a priority market for expansion. Info on this one broke way back in 2022 around the same time that Jack In The Box’s Northern Utah foray surfaced. To my knowledge, nothing additional has been announced regarding a possible franchisee for the state. But clearly, like everyone else, Utah is an attractive destination for concepts seeking growth.

Torchy’s Tacos

Recent info on this one has also gone quiet. The Austin-based taco business was seen hiring on local job boards just a few months back – indeed I saw the listings myself at the time. The postings implied a Sandy location would be in the offing. As I write, the posts now seem to have gone, and there’s been nary a peep in any of the national press, or indeed from press releases. It’s unclear if the plans have stalled, or are still quietly in progress.

As they say, watch this space. Also, watch your local strip mall and report back here if you see names I’ve missed!

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