Florida foodies will soon have more choices, from croissants to cheeseburgers, thanks to franchisees delivering two new brands to the region.
Paris Baguette, a bakery and cafe franchise with 4,000 stores worldwide, announced plans Jan. 16 for 40 locations in Florida in the next few years, with at least six coming to Gulf Coast spots including Bradenton, Lakewood Ranch, Fort Myers, Estero, Bonita Springs and Naples. The company is also looking for at least two partners in Tampa and St. Pete.
And Smalls Sliders, a new franchise chain known for its cheeseburger sliders, is targeting Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida specifically, with nine stores planned for Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Lakeland, Spring Hill, Sarasota, Cape Coral and Naples. The first Smalls in the region is planned to open at the end of the year.
According to one official from Paris Baguette, the increase in franchise activity is a testament to two things about Tampa Bay, the Gulf Coast and Florida in general: the business-friendly environment and the state's growing and sophisticated population, which demands more choices.
"I love the Tampa Bay-Sarasota market," says Eric Lavinder, chief development officer for Paris Baguette. "I think it's one of the best locations. … I know how fast it is growing."
Paris Baguette, known for its cakes, breads and coffee, was actually not founded in Paris, but, oddly 5,571 miles away in Seoul, South Korea. In 2005, the company opened stores in Los Angeles and spread to the New York City area.
It now has 158 stores in the United States— but only two in Florida, both in the Orlando area. Those locations are corporate-owned, says Lavinder, a way for the company to quietly test markets. Paris Baguette liked what it saw.
Lavinder says he was struck by the business-friendly nature as well as the booming population.
And, Lavinder noticed, the brand was not entirely unfamiliar to Orlando or Florida in general. The state is chock full of transplanted New Yorkers, as well as residents from New Jersey and California — places where Paris Baguette is well represented.
All that helps lead to the second goal after customers: franchisees — businesspersons who want to open their own Paris Baguette store.
"Really, the franchisees (in Florida) have been reaching us," says Lavinder. That includes two people who he says have reached out to inquire about possible locations in Tampa and Sarasota.
Meanwhile, Smalls Sliders, based in Louisiana, is slipping into the region through a nine-store agreement with Tampa-based Purple Square Management. Purple is a sizable franchise organization, managing more than 250 stores across nine brands, including Dunkin' Donuts, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and American Family Care urgent-care centers. The agreement is Purple Square Management's second agreement with Smalls, after signing on for two locations in Atlanta.
Founded in 2019 by Brandon Landry and former NFL star quarterback Drew Brees, the restaurants have a uniquely styled look: bright orange, and the shape resembles a long trailer. The company calls the stores "cans."
Purple Square Management CEO Vik Patel did not return messages left by the Business Observer for comment on the new franchise agreement. But in a written statement, the franchisee says, "The caliber of the Smalls Sliders brand has continuously increased since we first invested in the brand last year. We share their team's vision for the promising trajectory of the brand, and we wanted to continue to be a large part of its growth across markets."
The first Smalls will open in the region at the end of 2024, Smalls Sliders says in a news release.
Richard Leveille, chief development officer for Smalls Sliders, says the company found Florida a "prime market" for expansion, and Tampa Bay stood out.
"There was a ton of interest in the concept from Tampa Bay community members and prospective franchisees, so we knew it was a prime market for growth," says Leveille in an interview.
Leveille says that as the population increases, so does the demand for diverse dining options. "We see this as a prime opportunity to introduce our industry-disrupting brand to a broader audience," he says.
Leveille says Florida should expect more interest from franchise businesses.
"Florida holds a great deal of potential for the restaurant franchising business," says Leveille. "The state's dynamic demographic landscape, coupled with significant population growth, makes it a strategic choice for expansion for us and other concepts."
Lavinder agrees Florida appears to be a franchise's dream.
"Florida is a very business-friendly state," says Lavinder. "Florida is a great state to partner with."
Leveille says Tampa Bay and the Sarasota region seem especially ripe for new choices.
"We recognize the unique culinary landscape of the Tampa Bay-Sarasota area and are excited about the opportunity to contribute to it," says Leveille.
Jim Stinson is the Business Observer's Tampa Bay business reporter and editor, having previously written about business and policy in Washington, D.C.; Rochester, New York; Gary, Indiana; and Daytona Beach. He attended Boston University for business and Indiana University for journalism.