Carl’s Jr sees potential for “exponential growth” in the UK over time, with an eye on drive-thrus, high streets, shopping centres, and travel hubs as the US burger chain gears up to make its UK debut.

Tim Lowther, General Manager, Europe, tells MCA the Californian burger brand’s UK launch is a “natural progression,” with c4,000 restaurants globally, c1000 of which are outside the US.

Earlier this week, Carl’s Jr announced a partnership with property advisor Christie & Co, which will supports its launch by seeking out franchise partners for a national rollout.

“The UK’s capable of 300-400 restaurants over time,” he says. “Covid has gotten in the way of the launch, but regardless, we’ve been working in the background.

“We’re going to open when we find the right partner.”

“Once we have market recognition, there’s no limit,” adds Thomas Kremer, VP of development, EMEA. “We could have a master franchisee covering the whole of the UK, but this would come with a strong commitment to open at least 100 restaurants.”

Carl's Jr

The chain has “flirted” with potential partners over the past five years but continues to look for the right fit, according to Lowther and Kremer. It has 82 sites across mainland Europe and looks to reach 100 by the end of the year.

“We’re laser-focused on the UK and Germany for growth,” Lowther says. “We’re ready and prepared for when we have the right partner. There’s huge momentum on our side.”

The company is 100% franchised outside of the US and is looking for partners with the ability to scale quickly.

“We define ourselves as QSR+: great service and excellent quality in a fabulous environment,” Kremer says.

“We’re not premium or a better burger brand – we’re fast food,” adds Lowther. “We’re not competing with the casual dining market.”

With 100% angus beef and a “well-positioned”, quality product, the team sees the concept as an elevated QSR experience, adding differentiation in a crowded burger market. The price point will be that of fast food – with Lowther pointing to McDonald’s and Burger King as the closest competitors.

Carl's Jr

While focused on shopping centres and high streets, Carl’s Jr is looking to establish a presence in the drive-thru channel as well as open flagship airport sites.

Restaurants will open in the brand’s new omnichannel design, which incorporates kiosks and QR codes while reducing the footprint but increasing average unit volume capabilities.

“While there are a multitude of challenges, people are downgrading from casual dining and still want to enjoy the experiences they have.

“We sit firmly in QSR and know that value is important to our customers.”