For high-level franchise entrepreneurs seeking large returns on large investments, there are any number of big-name brands to choose from. Investors who meet the capital requirements can find franchise opportunities in some of the most popular restaurants in the world, international luxury hotels, and unique, big-ticket concepts like full-service dine-in movie theaters.
1851 has researched the highest-initial-investment franchise brands to create our list of the 15 most exciting brands requiring an initial investment of $1 million or more. The franchises represented on this list range from pizza parlors to storage concepts to multi-brand hotel chains, and each has proven to be among the strongest brands in the industry.
From its humble beginnings as a second-run movie theater offering cold beers and pizza in a former parking garage, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has grown to become a formidable brand in both the restaurant and theater spaces, two of the most lucrative segments in franchising. Now a full-service restaurant showing first-run movies, Alamo Drafthouse has 28 locations in markets across the U.S. with contracts for up to ten more in various stages of development.
Number of locations: 29
Startup costs: $1,250,000 to $2,000,000
Owned by oil company BP America, Inc., the AMPM convenience store chain is most often found at gas stations, making it a road-trip hallmark. Since the brand’s first store opened in Southern California in 1978, AMPM has expanded at an exponential rate throughout the country, including an increasing number of non-gas-station locations. AMPM also has units in international markets and continues to expand its already massive footprint.
Number of locations: more than 3,000
Startup costs: $1,850,000 to $7,760,000
In 1986, just six years after the first Applebee’s restaurant opened in Decatur, Georgia, the fledgling franchise changed the full name of their brand to Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar, signaling their mission to make all of their restaurants neighborhood fixtures. Since then, Applebee’s marketing campaigns have been punctuated by community-centric slogans such as “Together is good,” “It’s a whole new neighborhood,” and “See you tomorrow.” Now, a sprawling network of franchisees operates over 2,000 Applebee’s restaurants throughout the U.S., virtually fulfilling the franchise’s goal of becoming a neighborhood hub for the entire country.
Number of locations: more than 2,000
Startup costs: $1,700,000 to $3,100,000
Founded in 2008, Arooga’s is one of the youngest brands on this list, but the emerging franchise is quickly making a name for itself. The casual, American-food bar-and-grill concept has taken the East Coast by storm, opening 16 locations in just its first two years of franchising. Arooga’s is now looking to expand throughout the rest of the country, and with over 100 development deals for new restaurants in the works, Arooga’s could quickly become a household name across the U.S.
Number of locations: 16
Startup costs: $1,313,400 to $3,996,900
Bennigan’s has been on a dramatic upswing over the past few years. After filing for bankruptcy and closing all 150 corporate locations in 2008, the brand restructured in 2010 and set out on a path for resurgence, hiring new CEO Paul Mangiamele in 2011. Mangiamele’s operational changes included the implementation of a new revenue stream through catering and a renewed marketing emphasis on the brand’s Irish roots. Those efforts have reinvigorated the franchise, which has crept back up to more than 20 locations in the 11 U.S. states and more than 10 in seven other countries. The Bennigan’s corporate team plans to continue that measured development strategy throughout 2018, expanding their footprint in new markets and reclaiming their former glory as one of the most sought-after full-service franchises in the industry.
Number of locations: 33
Startup costs: $1,400,000 to $2,600,000
Buffalo Wings & Rings didn’t invent the wings-and-sports-bar concept, but they may have perfected it. The Cincinnati-based franchise has seen consistent growth year over year, opening dozens of new units in new markets across the globe each year and bringing in millions of dollars in system-wide sales.
Number of locations: more than 65
Startup costs: $1,292,500 to $2,407,000
Though the name Choice Hotels International may not ring a bell, the Rockville, Maryland corporation’s subsidiary brands surely will. Choice Hotel brands include Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Clarion, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn, and Cambria Hotel & Suites among other massively popular hotel and motel brands. Choice Hotels has long been a power player in the franchise industry, and as the hospitality segment continues to see gains, Choice Hotels is quickly becoming one of the most valuable franchise properties in the world.
Number of locations: more than 6,000
Startup costs: $1,370,000 to $15,500,000
Culver’s has always been a strong partner to the Midwest. Not only did the burger concept originate and grow in the region, it has designed its menu to patronize that essential industry of the Midwest: farming. Now that organic and environmentally-conscious eating has become a priority for consumers, Culver’s dedication to farm-fresh ingredients has become an even greater value proposition.
Number of locations: 638
Startup costs: $1,845,000 to $4,155,000
Golden Corral has long been one of the most reliable full-service brands in franchising. The country’s largest buffet chain, Golden Corral regularly brings in well over a billion in system-wide sales for the year. And the chain is still growing, taking advantage of the collapse of other buffet brands to open new units in existing buildings, expanding their system with reduced development costs.
Number of locations: 481
Startup costs: $1,961,000 to $5,539,000
Though Ground Round Grill & Bar may not be one of the more universally recognized brand names on our list, it has an impressive franchise pedigree. Ground Round was founded in 1969 by hotel franchise juggernaut Howard Johnson’s. The family-oriented casual dining chain is now entirely franchisee-owned, with 25 units operated in large part by the franchisee group Ground Round Independent Owners Cooperative, LLC.
Number of locations: 25
Startup costs: $1,140,000 to $2,205,000
Inspired by the upscale supper clubs of the 1940s and ‘50s, Johnny’s Italian Steakhouse has meticulously refined every detail of their design, menu, and service to achieve a classic steakhouse experience. The result is an explicitly more elegant concept than other full-service restaurants on this list.
Number of locations: 11
Startup costs: $1,255,000 to $4,000,000
Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom saw its record high in system-wide revenue in 2016, pulling in an 11 percent increase from 2015. The pizza-and-craft-beer brand capitalized on that growth in 2017, opening dozens of restaurants in new markets, including Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Michigan, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.
Number of locations: more than 100
Startup costs: $1,419,000 to $2,177,000
In 2012, rock royalty Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley teamed with restaurants Michael Zislis and his business partners Dave Furano and Dell Furano to open Rock & Brews, a family-oriented rock-and-roll-themed restaurant chain. Three years later, Nation’s Restaurant News named Rock & Brews one of their Break Out Brands of The Year, and in 2017, the franchise began to stretch its legs, signing multi-unit contracts for new locations throughout the country. In Chicago alone, Rock & Brews is slated to open 10–15 restaurants within the next 5–7 years.
Number of locations: 18
Startup costs: $1,510,000 to $2,505,000
Ruby Tuesday is a titan not only in the full-service segment but in the entire franchise industry. For decades, the family-friendly American food concept has been carefully extending its reach throughout the world, opening over 700 locations in more than 13 countries. Ruby Tuesday’s growth strategy for the next decade is designed to continue attracting partners in international markets, further strengthening its brand across the globe.
Number of locations: 612
Startup costs: $1,559,650 to $3,877,400
TGI Fridays has long held a prominent role in pop culture as the pinnacle of a certain type of casual dining chain, one defined largely by tchotchkes and flair. But in recent years, TGI Fridays has embarked on an ambitious pivot designed to appeal to younger generations. The brand is rolling out a new restaurant design that ditches the road signs and movie memorabilia in favor of a cleaner, brighter, and all around more contemporary aesthetic. Some new locations are also being designed and marketed as community hubs, complete with Wi-Fi for work-from-home crowds and stages for live concerts and open-mics.
Number of locations: 992
Startup costs: $2,000,000 to $6,000,000