Potbelly founder to build shops in Maryland as franchisee

Bryant Keil, who built Chicago antique story into a chain of sandwich shops, has signed a 27-unit agreement to operate locations with his son Hampden.
Keil and his son will have exclusive rights to seven counties in Maryland, including Montgomery County, where this unit is located. | Photo: Shutterstock

The founder of the Potbelly chain is growing restaurants again, this time with his son.

Bryant Keil and his son Hampden have signed an agreement to operate 27 Potbelly locations in Maryland, including 15 new units to be developed over the next eight years. Among the existing units the Keils are taking over are 12 company-owned locations that will be refranchised as part of the deal.

“For nearly three decades, I’ve believed in the strength of the Potbelly brand and the company’s growth potential,” said Keil in a statement. “I’m thrilled for this new partnership and the opportunity to open and operate additional shops on the East Coast. I’m especially excited to partner with my son Hampden to develop the market and our family business. He grew up in Potbelly and has significant restaurant experience. We are both very excited to join the system.”

Keil first purchased Potbelly in 1996 when it was an antique shop in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago. The owners of the shop also served toasted sandwiches to customers and played live music. The antique store became a neighborhood gathering spot.

Growing the sandwich side of the operation, Keil opened the second unit in 1997, and from there expanded the chain to 250 locations by 2008. The company went public in 2013. Now the chain includes more than 425 units, about 80% of which are company owned.

CEO and president Bob Wright, however, would like to grow the franchising side of Potbelly’s business. He has set the goal of refranchising 25% of units and achieving 10% franchise unit growth, with the target of reaching 2,000 locations over the next decade, about 85% of which would be franchised.

Wright said Potbelly has been shaped by Keil’s leadership.

“He has a keen understanding of the Potbelly vision and deep appreciation for the brand and what sets us apart,” Wright said in a statement. “He oversaw years of incredible expansion for the brand, and we look forward to him accelerating our growth momentum in Maryland as we continue to execute our strategic franchise and growth strategy across the U.S.”


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