Taco Bell, the Yum! Brands-owned chain, has the potential to open “hundreds” of restaurants in the UK, according to the head of its UK division Nick Dawson.

“We feel confident we have a compelling offering for UK customers,” said Dawson, who told M&C Report that the company has interest from franchise partners in the UK including existing franchisees who want to operate multiple sites.

Having developed its brand and built up a supply chain the company is now looking to accelerate the pace of openings to double its estate by the end of this year and then open five to 10 every year as it scales up.

The company opened its first high street location in Sheffield last year which features an open plan kitchen and an “urban and youthful” feel as well as three quick service food court sites in shopping centres at Manchester’s Arndale Centre, the Eastgate Shopping Centre, Basildon and the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex.

Dawson said the re-launch of the brand in the UK has “gone very well” with the shopping centre stores enjoying three consecutive years of consistent sales growth as people have responded to the offer.

The company’s “main priority” for new UK sites will be high street locations of 1,500sq ft with around 50 seats but the group is also keen to develop sites with smaller footprints at transport hubs, focusing on railway stations initially.

“The brand and the footprint can stretch to different locations big or small and we aim to have hundreds of sites in the future.”

“In the future there will be hundreds; there are people all over the UK asking for a Taco Bell to come to their town.”

The UK wide expansion will begin in major cities with large student populations, in the short-term expansion will be close to existing locations with second sites due to open in Sheffield and Essex this year.

A second high street location will open in the next two – three months in Sheffield and one in the Essex area this year as part of plans to open four sites this year to bring its estate to eight or nine by the end of the year.

The UK expansion is part of a broader international effort to make it an international brand. Dawson said the UK’s growing QSR market made this an opportune time for the Taco Bell brand to be re-launched in the UK.

After pulling out of the country in the 1990s the first new store was opened in 2010 at Lakeside.

In the US, where there are more than 6,000 stores, the majority of site formats are drive-thru locations, which will differ from the UK plan which will champion the high street model with an open plan kitchen and urban feel.

The drive-thru format will “eventually” be introduced in the UK, but in the short term Dawson said the company is focused on building brand awareness using the high street format.

He added there are new menu items in the pipeline for the UK.