As Chicago embraces healthier fast-food options, Smoothie King readies its ambitious expansion plan, planning to enter the market by opening a suburban location by August, according to the franchisee. The chain, based outside of New Orleans, wants to make Chicago its Midwestern hub, eventually opening more than 100 spots in the city and suburbs.
However, Chicago proper won't immediately see a Smoothie King under the current plan, which is to build in the suburbs in towns including Buffalo Grove, Schaumburg, Downers Grove and Orland Park, said franchisee Travis McKay. McKay didn't identify a specific town where they'd open first.
Assuming success there, they'll eventually find a spot for a stand-alone in Chicago, as Smoothie King already has an outpost inside O'Hare International Airport. It's an aggressive strategy that will start with a goal of opening five stores within the next two and a half years in the Chicago market, McKay said.
Smoothie King bills itself as the first smoothie bar, established in 1973 in Kenner, La. They make smoothies with organic ingredients and see their drinks as whole meals, wanting to compete in the same sphere as fast-food restaurants. There are more than 650 across the country, as well as Asia. The closest one to Chicago is in St. John, Ind., though there are eight in Illinois, mostly downstate. The company looms large in southern states with 109 locations in Louisiana and 91 in Florida.
City leases are more expensive than the suburbs, and McKay said his group wants to ease into things. But if a good deal comes up, he's not opposed to going into Chicago earlier. McKay, who lives in suburban Clarendon Hills, and his four-member franchisee group want to ensure all suburban Smoothie Kings have drive-thrus. They're targeting spots near high schools and parks, locations that attract soccer moms and mini-vans full of families for potential smoothie customers.