The Le family of San Jose, Calif., parlayed a catering business into one of the most successful Asian food franchises in the Southwest. There are 35 Lee's locations, mostly in California, with a few scattered in Texas, Arizona and Oklahoma.
The staple of Lee's sandwiches is "banh mi" -- Vietnamese sandwiches with French flair. The first thing you'll notice at a full-service Lee's is the smell of racks upon racks of freshly baked baguettes. The franchise's signature sandwiches are simple stacks of meat -- often pork or pate -- onions, cilantro and jalapeno served between chewy slices of near foot-long baguettes. The flavor is solid if not a little exotic for burger eaters, but the hook is price: $2.45. The establishments also serve more Western-style sandwiches on baguettes and croissants that feature mayonnaise, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes. Egg rolls and spring rolls are optional, as are Asian-style sweets, including a new item, Korean cream puffs called delimanjoo. There's a clean, assembly-line quality to the eateries, which are arranged around a walk-up register and a pick-up counter. An automated voice calls out customers' orders by number when the food is ready. And that's usually within a few minutes. Most of the establishments seem to be cash only. All feature free wi-fi. Franchise fees start at $248,180 for a "mall unit" and top out at more than $2 million for a "production unit" where bread is baked onsite. More info can be found here.