Berwyn-based Italian beef institution Buona announced Tuesday that it would open restaurants outside of the Chicago area and northwest Indiana. under a new franchise program.
The family business plans to open 100 franchised stores over the next five years in Florida, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Arizona and other parts of the Midwest, according to a press release.
“Our family has been in business since 1981. And we have been working very, very hard as a family and in our extended family to build a playbook that is truly designed for growth,” said Joe Buonavolanto III, company vice president. of franchise operations.
The first Buona opened in Berwyn in 1981; the company now has 25 locations in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana and a kiosk location in Denver with a limited menu. On Tuesday, the company said it also plans to open three company-owned stores each year for the next five years, including locations in northwestern Indiana, southern Wisconsin and possibly southern Illinois.
Expansion states were chosen because they are high-growth markets or have many transplants from Chicago, although the company is not limited to those areas. Buona is already in talks with operators who want to open restaurants in Florida, Texas and Arizona, Buonavolanto said.
“The interest we have been receiving so far is from experienced multi-unit operators who want to build an entire territory,” Buonavolanto said.
Buona franchisees will have the option to add an Original Rainbow Cone ice cream kiosk at their restaurant, the company said. The company first partnered with ice cream mainstay Beverly in 2018 and opened its first dual concept restaurant in Darién last summer.
Since then, dual concept restaurants have been launched in Skokie, Lakemoor and Mount Prospect, with locations in Valparaiso and Lincolnshire planned to open in the next year or so.
The partnership with the nearly century-old ice cream accessory has been a success so far, Buonavolanto said.
“We’ve even seen about a 30% increase in dinner sales at those places that have a Rainbow Cone,” he said.
Buona’s expansion comes at a time when demand for Italian meat is flying out of the Chicago area in the wake of “The Bear,” the FX hit set in the middle of the drama from a family-owned River North Italian beef store.
But Buonavolanto says the TV show wasn’t the catalyst for Buona’s expansion outside of Chicago: The company put together a franchise team about a year ago, he said.
Oak Brook-based Portillo’s, known for both hot dogs and Italian beef, is also expanding outside the Chicago area, into some of the same states Buona plans to enter.
Portillo’s opened a restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida, during the second quarter and plans to open additional locations in Florida, Texas and Arizona by the end of the year, CEO Michael Osanloo said in an August earnings call.