Johnny Rockets expands overseas


Johnny Rockets is rapidly expanding its overseas footprint by moving into a handful of new countries this year, including the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Brazil, Pakistan and Morocco.

Including expanded agreements with some existing franchisees, the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based burger chain has 180 restaurants under development internationally, more than doubling the 68 restaurants it currently operates overseas in 16 countries, John Fuller, Johnny Rockets’ chief executive, told Nation’s Restaurant News Tuesday.

Johnny Rockets, which operates or franchises 222 locations domestically, is among a growing number of U.S.-based restaurant chains racing to plant their flags overseas.

This week, Burger King said it would open 1,000 franchise locations in China over the next five to seven years.

Starbucks said Tuesday it will open its first unit in Costa Rica this week, part of its continuing push for growth throughout Latin America, with hundreds of locations planned for Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

Wetzel’s Pretzels opened its first Asia location in Tokyo earlier this year, with 10 more planned in two years. The pretzel chain also has agreements for franchise development in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and China.

Johnny Rockets began its aggressive international growth in 2008, about a year after the chain was acquired by private-equity firm RedZone Capital.

Fuller said the 26-year-old brand has particular appeal in other countries because of its very American theme.

“Internationally, we sell Americana. The currency we use is burgers, shakes and fries,” he said.

The challenge, however, has been finding the right partners, Fuller said. Johnny Rockets would like to move into China and India, which the company sees as huge potential markets, but they haven’t yet found the right franchisees, he said.

This week, Fuller said he will reveal the promotion of Steve Devine, former executive vice president, franchise development, to president of a newly created international division for Johnny Rockets.

Johnny Rockets’ recent international growth has included:

• The first location opened in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, last week, is the chain’s largest restaurant at 6,000 square feet and 200 seats. It is operated by franchisees Axel and Gamal Hache, brothers who are also former professional basketball players, who plan to open five locations in the Dominican Republic.

• The first of five restaurants planned for Indonesia and the first of five restaurants in Nigeria are scheduled to open this fall.

• Franchisee the American Diner Co. Ltd. has signed an agreement to open about 40 locations in Russia. So far, two have opened in Moscow.

• The first location in Brazil is scheduled to open in São Paulo this fiscal year. The agreement there calls for 30 locations.

• Ten restaurants are planned for Pakistan, and construction has begun for the first of 10 in Morocco.

• The Johnny Rockets franchisee for the United Arab Emirates has signed on to add Oman to its territory. Three restaurants are planned there, and the group currently operates six units in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

• Franchisee Shinsegae Food Co. Ltd. has opened five locations in Korea and recently signed on for another 30.

• Domestically, the chain plans to add about 15 to 20 new franchise locations this year.

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