Thinking of Buying a Fast-Casual Franchise? Read this report first.

Ones to Watch | By Sabrina Davis

 Pockets plans to franchise in 2007.

For years loyal customers, potential investors, and restaurant operators have hounded David Litchman, founder of Chicago’s Pockets restaurants, to franchise and let them in on his success. And for years he has said no, while slowly growing his business to 10 locations independently.

It wasn’t for not wanting to share the wealth; it was about quality of life. “I have young children,” Litchman says. “I didn’t want to be on the road all the time, but technology has changed the way a franchise can grow.” So, recently that patent no turned to a yes, and Litchman hopes to see his first franchise open by the end of the year.

Pockets opened in 1989 with Litchman a recent college graduate. “I had a credit card and a little money made as a commodities trader. I got my restaurant education on the job.”

He started with a simple idea—stuffing fresh salad ingredients into the signature Pockets bread, similar to Indian chapati bread.

“I had seen it somewhere else used in a similar fashion,” Litchman says. “I saw a great opportunity to expand upon that at a time when people were starting to look for healthier food and well before the Paneras of the world.”

The still-popular Original pocket is stuffed with lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, shredded carrots, green pepper, and mozzarella. Litchman has expanded the toppings and dressings over the years and also offers salads, baked potatoes, soups, and calzones.

Most customers prefer to customize their order. “When we started we didn’t have a build-your-own option, but now that’s what most people want. So we’re constantly adding new salad ingredients to give greater choice.”

Beyond the build-your-own options, favorites include the Asian pocket; the spinach, berry, and almond salad; the Southwest calzone; and the chicken chili. While the list of toppings and dressings grows, preparation remains the same, ensuring easy operation and expansion.

“The biggest change in my business has been in the technology we use,” Litchman says. “I decided to franchise because I’m now managing orders and operations electronically.”

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