Beverly Hills, California-Chef/restaurateur Wolfgang Puck intends to redefine quick-service cuisine through new deals to franchise his Wolfgang Puck Express concept nationwide and overseas.

Boasting that his Express menu and counter-service format would eclipse mainstream QSR rivals, Puck says, "McDonald's and Pizza Hut are fast food of the past."

Introduced at the San Francisco Macy's department store in 1993, the small-box Express variant of the Wolfgang Puck Café concept has grown into a 15-unit chain located primarily in airports and the upscale Gelson's Market grocery stores. Puck's company operates four Express units in California and Florida, with the remainder controlled by licensees, including Host Marriott, Skyport and the University of Southern California.

With the planned late-May filing of UFOC documents with state authorities, the firm plans to sign 15 to 20 franchisees from coast to coast, each of which would develop 15 regional Express units over five years.

Express division director Don Karas says existing Express units, which vary from 1,000 to 2,000 square feet, average $1.8 million in sales annually. The smaller units have a $400,000 build-out cost, he says, and generate a 36 percent profit margin before occupancy costs and franchise fees. Although occupancy costs could vary depending on lease terms, franchise fees are 5 percent of gross sales, he adds.

The Express outlets serve a menu of about 20 items, priced from $2.95 for a small soup to $12.99 for a whole rotisserie chicken. -Nation's Restaurant News