Salsarita’s to expand Carolinas footprint this year

Salsarita’s CEO Phil Friedman
Salsarita’s CEO Phil Friedman Courtesy of Salsarita’s

Charlotte-based Salsarita’s is kicking off a regional expansion in coming months the company says is part of a strategy to grow first in its core markets – the Carolinas.

By the end of this year, the fast casual Mexican chain will open a total of 12 new locations, including two North Carolina sites, in nearby Salisbury and in High Point, and two restaurants in Columbia.

All the new restaurants will follow the newly designed prototype that opened in Indian Land last fall.

Phil Friedman, the chain’s chief executive officer, took the helm at the company in 2011 hoping to expand an up-and-coming brand. He had headed McAlister’s for the 11 years prior and in that time, grew its footprint from less than 30 locations in the South to about 300 stores across the U.S.

Salsarita’s currently operates almost 80 restaurants. Friedman says he sees the brand growing into a “super regional chain” with 400 to 500 restaurants someday.

“I’m trying to build on some of that knowledge I’ve developed from McAlister’s and apply them to Salsarita’s as we grow,” Friedman told the Observer.

The greater Charlotte region is the right place to kick off the ambitious growth plan, Friedman said, because of its demographics – many two-income families, people on the go and professionals focused on their careers looking for an easy way to dine out.

“Charlotte is one of the perfect markets for quick casual because of the demographic and economic makeup of the city,” Friedman said.

When he came to Salsarita’s four years ago, the chain operated restaurants in 20 states. Now that number is down to 18, Friedman said, but the reduction was deliberate. Friedman called the chain “scattered” back then and in a few markets with only one or two restaurants.

“What we’ve done over the last few years is focus on taking the markets we’re in and developing those as much as we can,” Friedman said, adding that the expansion will be gradual.

Its strategy mirrors that of Charlotte-based Bojangles’, the chicken-and-biscuits chain that, when it went public this spring, outlined a growth plan to concentrate on its most popular regional markets before expanding into neighboring ones.

“Bojangles’ is a great story. It went through its ups and downs, but really when it got focused, grew from the core out and really took off again,” Friedman said.

When asked whether Salsarita’s will go public, too, Friedman didn’t completely dismiss the idea.

“It’s not a requirement or goal, but it’s certainly something we will consider at the right time, and that right time is a few years away,” Friedman said.

Here are the new Salsarita’s locations to open this year in the Carolinas. All are company-owned restaurants except High Point, which will be franchised.

▪ 4112 Brian Jordan Place, Suite 113, High Point.

▪ 120 Rowan Summit Drive, Suite 500, Salisbury.

▪ 2006 Devine St., Columbia.

▪ 275 Park Terrace Drive, Suite 800, Columbia.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta