FREEBIRDS has topped the Technomic Top 150 Fast Casual Chain Restaurant Report as the fastest growing fast casual chain of 2011. In 2011, FREEBIRDS saw a 63.2 percent year-over-year growth, adding 24 restaurants to its existing 38 for a total of 62 locations. By the end of this year, FREEBIRDS will have opened an additional 28 company restaurants and three franchised restaurants, which should make it among the fastest-growing fast casual chains again in 2012, Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, said in a press release.

"In spite of difficult economic times, the Fast Casual Mexican Grill restaurant segment has continued to grow at a very rapid pace over the past five years through exciting regional brands," he said. "FREEBIRDS World Burrito continues to be one of the fastest growing brands led by their rebellious energy, a fresh made-to-order menu and broad range of flavors. With the introduction of a franchising program this year, FREEBIRDS is poised to become a major national player in the U.S. Fast Casual Mexican segment."

Momentum

Since Tavistock Restaurants purchased FREEBIRDS in 2007, the brand has quadrupled in size, doubling at the end of 2010, and doubling again by the end of 2012.

FREEBIRDS focused its 2009-2010 growth in Texas, and then started to expand to California in 2011-2012, opening 11 Southern California locations and 10 Northern California locations during that time.

In 2009, FREEBIRDS introduced FREEBIRDS World Works, the charity arm of the brand that inspires staff and guests to become active in their local communities by giving back through volunteer efforts. Each FREEBIRDS location is partnered with local, non-profit organizations to create awareness and help out where needed. The idea of activism resonates with guests and team members, and ultimately builds brand loyalty.

In 2012, FREEBIRDS began franchising for the first time in the brand's 25-year history. FREEBIRDS signed its first franchise partner, FB Midwest Development, in March 2012. By committing to 27 restaurants, FB Midwest holds exclusive rights to territory that includes Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. FB Midwest has had two successful openings this year, and is slated to open three additional locations in the next four months.

This tremendous growth has required the company to open several restaurants in a single month, often opening two to three restaurants within a week of each other in different markets. In the last 30 months, FREEBIRDS has done it 17 times.

"Our ability to grow at this pace is really a testament to our people," said FREEBIRDS President Jim Mizes. "Beyond building systems and infrastructure, we have invested in a talented team of construction, development, recruiting, operations and marketing people who work together to open in new and existing markets rather seamlessly."

Read more about growth.

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