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The Top 10 Low-Cost Restaurant Franchises

Here are 10 brands you can invest in for six digits or less.

By Victoria CampisiStaff Writer
10:10AM 05/18/23

Restaurants make up one of the largest segments of the franchising industry today. And as the restaurant industry continues to grow, more people are looking for affordable ways to invest in the business. 

Although some restaurant brands can cost upwards of over a million dollars to invest in, that is not always the case. In fact, there are quite a few brands that aspiring entrepreneurs can buy with six digits. Here are a few examples. 


Units: 1,200+

Startup Costs: $16,000–$28,000

Founded in 1952, Chester’s is a quick service restaurant franchise that sells fresh, never frozen, marinated chicken that's fried using a secret, family recipe. The brand has over 1,200 locations in convenience stores, truck stops and supermarkets. With one of the lowest investment costs on this list, Chester’s is a great option for anyone looking to get into the industry without a huge hit to the wallet. 


Units: 7,700+

Startup Costs: $90,000–$$625,000

Being such a big name in ice cream, one might think that the Baskin-Robbins franchise opportunity requires a big investment. However, that is not the case. In fact, initial investments start as low as $90,000, and the franchise fee stands lower than many at $25,000. Additionally, Baskin-Robbins requires a minimum net worth of just $100,000–$200,000 and liquid assets of $100,000. 

Firehouse Subs

Units: 1,200+

Startup Costs: an average of $412,731

Founded in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1994, by brothers and former firefighters Chris Sorensen and Robin Sorensen, Firehouse Subs is a brand built on decades of fire and police service. The brand is known for its hot and hearty subs, as well as its commitment to saving lives through the establishment of the non-profit Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation®. 


Units: 41,000+

Startup Costs: $207,050–$476,900

One of the most well-known sandwich chains around the world is also one of the most affordable. The estimated initial investment for a Subway restaurant ranges from $207,050 to $476,900, depending on various factors such as building size, configuration and location. Notably, the initial franchise fee is just $15,000 for each Subway franchise location.

Papa John’s

Units: 5,700

Startup Costs: $200,000–$789,000

As one of the most popular pizza franchises in the United States, Papa John’s is probably more accessible than you think. With investment costs running as low as $200,000 and under $800,000 on the high end, the brand ranks as one of the top low-cost restaurant franchises to buy.

Cold Stone Creamery

Units: 1,200+

Startup Costs: $310,375–$580,650

Cold Stone Creamery is an ice cream franchise that has helped entrepreneurs realize their dreams of small business ownership since it started franchising in 1994. Its business model was designed to be easy to open and easy to scale, with initial investment costs well below those of other ice cream or dessert concepts.


Units: 1,800+

Startup Costs: $315,310–$948,080

What began as a small, buffalo-style chicken wing restaurant in Garland, Texas, became known as the fan-favorite chicken wing franchise that is Wingstop. A popular option for customers and franchise owners alike, Wingstop positions its partners for success through an “initial investment that can deliver a two-year payback,” said Craig Sherwood, Senior Vice President of U.S. Development.

The Original Hot Dog Factory

Units: 15

Startup Costs: $98,000–$518,000

The Original Hot Dog Factory was founded in 2010 by Dennis McKinley and grew in popularity after its feature on Bravo’s “Real Housewives of Atlanta. It’s known for its full menu of hot dogs, wings and sandwiches. With an initial investment as low as $98,000, this brand is perfect for franchisees looking to profit off an American staple. 

Taco Bell

Units: 7,900+

Startup Costs: $576,000–$3,400,000

Taco Bell is known for serving Mexican-style food quickly and at a low price. The subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc. can cost franchisees upwards of $3.4 million. However, with various models, the brand can go for as low as $576,000. Its franchise fee is also $45,000, relatively low compared to other restaurant brands. 

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Units: 1,100+

Startup Costs: $277,000–$584,000

A favorite among health-conscious consumers nationwide, Tropical Smoothie Cafe offers franchisees the chance to get in on the booming health-and-wellness market. The brand carries an extensive menu of real-fruit smoothies, wraps, salads, sandwiches and flatbreads. A new cafe investment is between $277,000 and $584,000, with the average cost being approximately $400,000. 

All of these restaurant franchises are a great option for entrepreneurs who want to enter the food industry without breaking the bank. They also offer the advantage of established brand recognition and proven business models, which can help new franchisees avoid many of the pitfalls that come with starting a business from scratch.