Potbelly Is Racing To Quadruple In Size

The sandwich chain is on a path for "rapid expansion" across the country.

People often talk about how there's a Starbucks or a McDonald's on every corner in the U.S., but it seems a new category of quick service restaurant is surging forward. Sandwich chains are charting their expansion, and the most recent brand to announce its rapid growth plan is Potbelly.

Potbelly Sandwich Shop, founded in Chicago in 1977, currently has 425 locations nationwide. However, Potbelly announced this week via press release that currently has 192 potential locations in development, with a stated long-term goal of 2,000 restaurant locations. The brand has signed development agreements in states across the country, including New York, Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

"We're pleased with the continued momentum we've seen in 2023 in sales and traffic growth, margin expansion and franchise development commitments across the U.S.," Bob Wright, President and CEO of Potbelly said in the announcement. "Looking ahead, Potbelly is prioritizing further expansion with experienced, multi-unit restaurant owner-operator groups, and we're committed to realizing growth in new and existing markets where we're confident the brand will continue to thrive."

On top of this physical expansion, Potbelly has also revamped its rewards program, Potbelly Perks. Previously, loyalty members earned points; the new program and brand app converts those old points into "coins." Members can take "greater control of their rewards" by cashing in those coins for either low-tier items such as a pickle or cookie, or high-tier ones like a bowl of soup or half salad.

"We've basically opened up the entire menu as a reward, not just entrees," Potbelly CMO David Daniels told Nation's Restaurant News.

Coins expire after one year, and Perks members are broken up into tiers based on how much they spend at Potbelly. Everyone starts at Rookie level, which earns 10 coins per dollar spent; Pro level earns 11 coins per dollar spent; and Boss-level members earn 5,000 coins per calendar year, which unlocks the ability to earn 12 coins per dollar spent. All levels earn access to the "Underground Menu," available only through the app.

Meanwhile, other sandwich shops like Jimmy John's and Jersey Mike's are also on an ambitious path to growth. Jimmy John's is taking its footprint international with multiple agreements to open restaurant locations in Canada and Latin America. Jersey Mike's has also plotted a course for international expansion, with 300 total store locations planned in Canada by 2034.

There seems to be a race to keep up with Subway, which has by far the most locations in the sandwich chain space. Subway has more than 36,000 restaurant locations worldwide, with more than 20,000 of those locations in the U.S. alone. With their aggressive expansion plans, Potbelly and its competitors seemingly hope to prove there is more than one fast sandwich in town.