Austin, Texas-Fuddruckers, the fast-casual burger chain, is expanding its reach with a new scaled-down express prototype designed for nontraditional venues. With two franchised Fudds Express outlets already operating in food courts in Montana, the 233-unit chain is set to debut its first casino location in Harrah's in New Orleans later this month. Negotiations also are underway to open an express unit in a major metropolitan airport, according to Fuddruckers' franchise sales manager, Dino Chavez.

Fuddruckers began to grow beyond its suburban roots several years ago with the introduction of Fudds in the City, a prototype tailored for densely populated urban areas. Today there are six company-owned and franchised Fudds in the City locations. The new express prototype is expected to open up additional avenues for the brand's expansion. "We're looking at airports and casinos," Chavez said. "But we also would like to explore [operating] express units in universities, museums and sports stadiums."

The Fudds Express encompasses about 500 square feet of space and will serve a limited menu of hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken sandwiches, Chavez explained. He added that the unit might offer several smaller salads as well, although that remains undecided so far. While Chavez would not estimate the average-unit sales volume for the new express model, he acknowledged that it would be considerably lower than the $1.5 million-plus the average Fuddruckers restaurant generates annually. The company currently is looking for affordable sites in metropolitan areas, including Boston, Houston, Los Angeles and New York. Fudds in the City units run from 2,000 square feet to 4,000 square feet and seat from 80 to 100 guests. -Nation's Restaurant News