bannerIndustry Spotlight

10 Low-Cost Food Franchises Under $1 Million

Although restaurants are typically pricey in terms of initial investment, here are 10 low-cost food franchises you can buy into for six digits or less.

By Victoria CampisiStaff Writer
Updated 8:08AM 03/29/24

Restaurants make up the largest segment of the franchising industry. It’s typically not the cheapest market to get into, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options for entrepreneurs seeking lower-cost investments. 

Here are 10 restaurant brands that aspiring franchise owners can buy for under $1 million.


  • Investment Range: $10,000 franchise fee
  • Unit Count: 3,000+

Chick-fil-A is perhaps the most low-cost fast food franchise among today’s major players on the market. Franchisees pay just a $10,000 franchise fee. However, the catch is that the application process is highly competitive with only 1% of the approximately 60,000 annual applicants being approved.


  • Investment Range: $28,000 – $297,000
  • Unit Count: 1,200+

Chester's is a quick-service restaurant franchise renowned for its fresh, never frozen, marinated chicken that’s fried using a secret family recipe. The brand boasts over 1,200 locations in convenience stores, truck stops, and supermarkets. Recognized for its affordability with one of the lowest investment costs in the industry, Chester's is considered an attractive option for individuals entering the food service sector.


  • Investment Range: $90,000 – $625,000
  • Unit Count: 8,000+

Despite being a prominent name in the ice cream industry, the Baskin-Robbins franchise opportunity is surprisingly affordable. Initial investments start at $90,000, with a franchise fee of $25,000, which is lower than many others in the market. The minimum net worth requirement is $100,000 – $200,000, making Baskin-Robbins a relatively accessible option for potential franchisees.


  • Investment Range: $229,050 – $522,300
  • Unit Count: 41,600+

Globally recognized sandwich chain Subway stands out as one of the most affordable franchise options. The estimated initial investment for a Subway restaurant varies from $229,050 – $522,300, depending on factors like building size, configuration, and location. Notably, the initial franchise fee for each Subway franchise location is just $15,000.

Firehouse Subs

  • Investment Range: starting at $150,000
  • Unit Count: 1,500+

Firehouse Subs offers a franchise opportunity in the rapidly growing fast-casual sandwich industry. With a proven business model and strong brand identity, the franchise provides training and support for success. The investment starts at just $150,000, requiring a net worth of at least $300,000. 

Papa Johns

  • Investment Range: $188,615 – $975,415
  • Unit Count: 5,500+

As one of the most popular pizza franchises in the United States, Papa John’s is probably more accessible than you might think. Traditional investment ranges from $188,615 to $975,415, while non-traditional investment varies from $101,500 to $405,865, making it one of the top low-cost food franchises with strong brand recognition. 

Cold Stone Creamery

  • Investment Range: $53,200 – $602,775
  • Unit Count: 1,300+

Ice cream franchise Cold Stone Creamery has been helping people become small business owners since 1994. Their business model is straightforward for starting and expanding. Initial costs are much lower than other ice cream or dessert options, starting at just $53,200 for non-traditional locations. 

The Original Hot Dog Factory

  • Investment Range: $98,000 – $518,000
  • Unit Count: 13

The Original Hot Dog Factory, which was established in 2010 by Dennis McKinley and gained popularity through Bravo's "Real Housewives of Atlanta," is recognized for its menu of hot dogs, wings, and sandwiches. With a starting investment as low as $98,000, it’s an ideal opportunity for franchisees aiming to capitalize on the appeal of these American staples. 

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

  • Investment Range: $296,500 – $661,500
  • Unit Count: 1,300+

Tropical Smoothie Cafe provides a low-cost franchise opportunity in the thriving health-and-wellness market. The brand features a wide menu that includes real-fruit smoothies, wraps, salads, sandwiches, and flatbreads. The investment for a new cafe ranges from $296,500 to $661,500, with an average cost of approximately $400,000.

Kona Ice

  • Investment Range: Around $160,725
  • Unit Count: 1,200+

Kona Ice offers a shaved ice franchise with a mobile business model. With a quick and easy startup, minimal investment, and patented Flavorwave technology, Kona Ice stands out as a low-cost dessert investment. 

If you're looking to get into the restaurant industry through a franchise, we can help! Whether buying your first franchise or building your portfolio, 1851 Growth Club will guide you through the buying process with honesty and integrity. Reach out today to learn more.

Check out these related articles: