Chicken chains expand locally

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San Francisco and San Mateo County residents will be seeing more south-of-the-border chicken choices within the next few years as both local and Southern California chains plan expansions in the region.

A franchise of El Pollo Loco, an Irvine-based Mexican fast-casual restaurant chain with some 350 shops nationwide, will be opening five new stores in San Mateo County and four in San Francisco by the end of 2011, Managing Partner David Barrows said. His business holds the exclusive franchise for San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.

“We’d like to be in each major community,” Barrows said. “Redwood City is a major opportunity, so we’re looking very hard there.”

The chain is ideally seeking 3,000-square-foot stores in areas of high density, visibility and convenience, such as El Camino Real, Barrows said.

Meanwhile, San Francisco chain El Pollo Supremo, or Supreme Chicken, plans three new locations by the end of 2008, owner Robert Alvarez said. The chain has a store at 5210 Mission St. in The City and one at 901 South B St. in San Mateo; two other stores in San Francisco closed in recent years after Alvarez’s partner sold them and moved east to open more restaurants in the New York City metropolitan area. The business began in 1982 in the Mission.

Both restaurants offer flame-grilled chicken, but Alvarez said his Cuban-recipe chicken and various sides have, “nothing to do with El Pollo Loco. I grind the garlic and the onions. … It’s not the same product”

A smaller business, he’s looking to open each restaurant individually, he said.

By contrast, El Pollo Loco is engaged in a national expansion that may eventually lead to a public offering, Barrows said. There are no current plans for an IPO, El Pollo Loco VP of Communications Julie Weeks said. Barrows said he considers El Pollo Loco’s competition to be other fast-casual chains such as Baja Fresh and Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) restaurants.

“We do it a different way and a better way, especially dinner,” he said.

Barrows was formerly CEO of Boudin Bakery and World Wrapps and VP of marketing for Sizzler Restaurants.

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