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The 10 Restaurant Chains We Wish Were Franchises (But Aren't)

From Chipotle's commitment to ingredient quality to In-N-Out's family-run focus, discover why these brands prioritize control over expansion through franchising.

By Victoria CampisiStaff Writer
Updated 8:08AM 04/17/24

Once you learn about franchising, you start to notice just how many businesses we see on a daily basis are, in fact, franchises. This is especially true when it comes to restaurants. While the franchise model has made many restaurants accessible worldwide, there remain some major chains that remain 100% company-owned. In this list, we present 10 major restaurant brands that aren't actually franchises; several of them may take you by surprise.


Despite having over 3,300 locations, Chipotle is not a franchise — at least not in the majority of the world. The Middle East is the only region in which the brand has inked a franchise agreement. The brand announced in July 2023 that it had entered into its first-ever development agreement with Alshaya Group to bring restaurants to Dubai and Kuwait. 

Speaking to Business Insider in 2014, Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold said that the reason the brand does not franchise is “because [it] doesn’t need to.” The company has also said that it wants to maintain tight control over its food sourcing, without facing pressure from franchisees. 


Starbucks has traditionally adopted a company-owned model for its stores. The reason? In his 1997 book, “Pour Your Heart Into It,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz explained that he wants to have a “fanatical” level of control over his business.

In 2003, Schultz told Entrepreneur that Starbucks is “dealing with a premium product — something that can be hard to learn, that you have to explain to the customer, that requires an educated staff.” He added that it would be “hard to provide the level of sensitivity to customers and knowledge of the product needed to create those Starbucks values” if the company franchised. However, Starbucks eventually began offering franchise opportunities in select locations such as the United Kingdom and the Philippines. 


To the dismay of those of us who want this West Coast staple on the East Coast (or anywhere else), In-N-Out notoriously remains under family ownership. Started by Harry and Esther Snyder in 1948, the company has always been run by their family. Harry’s granddaughter, Lynsi Snyder, is currently serving as president of the brand. In-N-Out keeps tight control over every aspect of the business, from where they get their ingredients to how they train their staff, so the brand can make sure every location it has maintains the same quality and vibe that made it famous. 

White Castle

Famous for its sliders, White Castle has formed a strong identity and loyal customer base in the fast food industry. But even after 100 years, the restaurant chain has remained firmly in the hands of the Ingram family, its original founders. Why? Franchise Help reports that White Castle's low-cost, semi-localized menu options require its restaurants to be located near its supply facilities. 

Dutch Bros

Known for its friendly staff and creative drink menu, Dutch Bros is a staple for many American coffee drinkers. Unfortunately, if you want to get in on the action and own your own location, it’s too late. Although Dutch Bros opened its first franchise in 2000, the brand switched to an internal growth model in 2008, meaning that franchisees needed to have worked for the brand for at least three years before opening their own store. And by 2017, Dutch Bros stopped franchising altogether so it could be the “sole judge of getting ‘the best of the best’ people in its system.”

Shake Shack

Although the East Coast doesn’t have In-N-Out, they do have Shake Shack. However, the brand is only offering franchising opportunities to a handful of international partners.

“[W]e don’t franchise within the U.S., nor do we have plans to do so in the future,” Shake Shack states on its website. “Outside of the U.S., we work with exclusive partners who license and operate in those countries.” 


Although it seems like Sweetgreen locations are popping up everywhere, it is not through franchising. As the restaurant chain continues to expand, many aspiring entrepreneurs have expressed interest in the possibility of owning their own. But to the dismay of many aspiring health food restaurant entrepreneurs, Sweetgreen has never been — and has no plans to become — a franchise. 

“Please note that Sweetgreen does not franchise, and we currently have no plans to do so,” the company clearly states on its contact page

Cracker Barrel

With such a loyal following, and more than 660 stores in 48 states, it’s hard to believe Cracker Barrel isn’t a franchise. All locations are company-owned and operated. According to an article on Mashed, this decision came about because, in the early days, the company relied on private investors and later went public to fund its expansion while keeping a tight grip on operations.

Panda Express

Asian-style fast-food chain Panda Express has chosen to remain corporately owned over the years. Despite showing interest in going public and offering franchise opportunities in the 1990s, the corporation ultimately decided against it, opting to maintain sole ownership of its business. That said, Panda Express does have licensing agreements. This means that an individual or entity (the licensee) may use the branding, trademarks and operational methods of Panda Express for a specified period and under specific terms and conditions.  


Despite having all the makings of a great franchise, salad chain Chopt has not yet started offering franchise opportunities. All of its 70+ locations are corporate-owned. Luckily, there’s plenty of salad brands, like CHOP5 Salad Kitchen, that do offer franchising. 

To learn more about why some of these brands have chosen not to franchise, check out these related articles on 1851 Franchise: