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Top Food Franchises of 2016

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When most people hear the word franchise, their first thought is food. It's a natural reaction, considering how many high-profile franchise concepts are food-related. In fact, our Franchise 500 list this year contained 119 food franchises, representing more than 200,000 individual places to grab a bite, from vending machines and carts to drive-thrus and sit-down diners.

Jiri Hera/shutterstock

This month, we look at the top food franchises -- a list full of trends, such as spicy flavors (people love their Buffalo wings), wacky food mash-ups (bacon on everything) and over-the-top treats (ice cream with gummy bears). But the leaders of these franchises say they succeed because of other ingredients as well -- transparency, responsibility and sustainability. “The traditional attributes of ‘lower calorie' or ‘low fat' are no longer the defining hallmarks for healthy choices,” says Firehouse Subs CEO Don Fox. “And the determination of what is good for you, for the world -- or what is not -- is a complex and personal mosaic that's different for each customer.”

As you peruse this list, please keep in mind it is not intended as an endorsement of any company. Before investing in a franchise opportunity, you should always read the company's legal documents, consult with an attorney and an accountant and talk to existing and former franchisees.

BAKED GOODS

Auntie Annie's Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels

Soft pretzels
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #31

Startup cost: $196.5K-$370.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,632/16

Cinnabon

Cinnamon rolls, baked goods, coffee
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #55

Startup cost: $181.1K-$387.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,340/2

Krispy Kreme Doughnut

Doughnuts, coffee
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #119

Startup cost: $275K-$1.9M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 931/114

Great American Cookies

Cookies
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #128

Startup cost: $183.2K-$316.7K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 357/0

Wetzel's Pretzels

Soft pretzels, lemonade, hot dogs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #163

Startup cost: $156.6K-$370.9K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 290/12

Great Harvest Franchising

Bread bakery
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #411

Startup cost: $113.5K-$642K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 195/1

Pretzelmaker

Pretzels
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #423

Startup cost: $154.5K-$237.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 294/0
 

CHICKEN

KFC

Chicken
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #41

Startup cost: $1.3M-$2.5M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 14,162/5,258

Buffalo Wild Wings

Buffalo wings, sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #59

Startup cost: $1.4M-$3.6M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 576/594

Church's Chicken

Chicken
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #63

Startup cost: $413.3K-$1.3M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,396/261

Chester's

Chicken
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #64

Startup cost: $21.9K-$293.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,073/0

Wingstop Restaurants

Chicken wings
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #71

Startup cost: $192.3K-$688.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 766/19

Zaxby's Franchising

Chicken fingers, Buffalo wings, sandwiches, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #82

Startup cost: $284K-$664.3K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 574/122

Bojangles' Restaurants

Cajun chicken, biscuits, iced tea
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #99

Startup cost: $356.7K-$558.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 381/281

Golden Chick

Chicken
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #222

Startup cost: $758.95K-$1.7M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 125/6
 

COFFEE

Dunkin' Donuts

Coffee, doughnuts, baked goods
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #8

Startup cost: $217.3K-$1.6M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 11,750/0

Scooter's Coffee

Specialty coffee, smoothies, pastries
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #376

Startup cost: $272.5K-$393.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 105/19

Maui Wowi Hawaiian Coffees & Smoothies

Specialty coffee and smoothies
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #194

Startup cost: $75.4K-$469K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 190/0

Biggby Coffee

Specialty coffee, tea, smoothies, baked goods
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #476

Startup cost: $160.4K-$317.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 203/0
 

FROZEN DESSERTS

 

Baskin-Robbins

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen beverages
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #29

Startup cost: $90.4K-$396.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 7,597/10

Dairy Queen

Ice cream, burgers, chicken
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #34

Startup cost: $356.5K-$1.8M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 6,665/2

Cold Stone Creamery

Ice cream, sorbet
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #57

Startup cost: $261.1K-$404.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,253/10

Kona Ice

Shaved-ice truck
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #77

Startup cost: $114.1K-$129.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 713/8

Culver Franchising System

Frozen custard, specialty burgers
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #89

Startup cost: $1.4M-$3.7M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 549/7

Rita's Italian Ice

Italian ice, frozen custard
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #94

Startup cost: $140.5K-$414.2K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 597/0

Carvel

Ice cream, ice cream cakes
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #122

Startup cost: $250.3K-$383.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 406/0

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #125

Startup cost: $223K-$427.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 310/0

Yogurtland Franchising

Self-serve frozen yogurt
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #173

Startup cost: $307.2K-$699.9K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 292/16

Freddy's Frozen Custard

Frozen custard, steakburgers, hot dogs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #215

Startup cost: $596.2K-$1.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 184/14

Pinkberry Ventures

Frozen yogurt, frozen-yogurt shakes, Greek-yogurt smoothies
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #228

Startup cost: $310.8K-$615.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 242/33

Ben & Jerry's

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet, smoothies
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #299

Startup cost: $155.99K-$485.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 574/16

Dippin' Dots Franchising

Specialty ice cream, frozen yogurt, ices, sorbet
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #312

Startup cost: $112.2K-$376.95K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 130/1

Bahama Buck's Original Shaved Ice

Shaved ice, fruit smoothies
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #364

Startup cost: $223.3K-$720.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 77/3

The Haagen-Dazs Shoppe

Ice cream, frozen yogurt
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #459

Startup cost: $145.2K-$457.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 212/0

Bruster's Real Ice Cream

Ice cream, frozen yogurt, ices, sherbets
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #492

Startup cost: $262K-$1.3M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 183/2

Red Mango-Yogurt Cafe & Juice Bar

Frozen yogurt, smoothies, juices, wraps
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #494

Startup cost: $193.2K-$501.3K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 285/1
 

FULL-SERVICE RESTAURANTS

Denny's

Family restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #9

Startup cost: $1.2M-$2.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,551/162

Golden Corral Restaurants

Family steakhouse, buffet and bakery
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #104

Startup cost: $1.97M-$5.5M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 392/108

Gyu-Kaku Japanese BBQ Restaurant

Japanese barbecue restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #202

Startup cost: $781.8K-$2.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 674/18

CiCi's Pizza

All-you-can-eat pizza buffet
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #227

Startup cost: $488.7K-$757.98K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 407/36

Johnny Rockets

Burger restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #295

Startup cost: $539.5K-$975.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 316/28

Tilted Kilt Franchise Operating

Restaurant and bar
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #325

Startup cost: $898K-$2.9M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 95/2

Black Bear Diners

Family restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #336

Startup cost: $527.8K-$1.5M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 57/18

HuHot Mongolian Grills

Mongolian grill restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #350

Startup cost: $777K-$977K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 49/9

Twin Peaks Restaurant

Restaurant and bar
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #382

Startup cost: $1.3M-$3.4M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 44/20

East Coast Wings

Buffalo wings
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #385

Startup cost: $658.9K-$1.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 32/2

The Melting Pot Restaurants

Fondue restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #457

Startup cost: $955.1K-$1.4M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 124/2

Hooters Restaurant

Casual restaurant
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #462

Startup cost: $906.5K-$3.2M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 225/191
 

HAMBURGERS

 

McDonald's

Burgers, chicken, salads, beverages
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #6

Startup cost: $989.4K-$2.2M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 30,081/6,444

Hardee's

Burgers, chicken, biscuits
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #12

Startup cost: $1.3M-$1.8M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 2,011/118

Jack in the Box

Burgers
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #13

Startup cost: $1.3M-$2.4M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,818/431

Sonic Drive-In Restaurants

Burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, breakfast, ice cream, beverages
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #27

Startup cost: $1.1M-$1.97M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 3,147/382

Carl's Jr. Restaurants

Burgers
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #54

Startup cost: $1.3M-$1.8M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,356/167

Checkers and Rally's Restaurants

Burgers, fries
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #251

Startup cost: $155.4K-$1.3M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 505/323

Fatburger North America

Burgers
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #287

Startup cost: $498.1K-$890.6K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 161/3
 

MEXICAN FOOD

Taco Bell

Mexican food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #18

Startup cost: $1.2M-$2.6M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 5,398/923

Moe's Southwest Grill

Southwestern food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #83

Startup cost: $453.2K-$757.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 634/5

Qdoba Mexican Grill

Mexican food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #111

Startup cost: $623.1K-$815K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 342/315

Fuzzy's Taco Shop

Baja-style Mexican food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #271

Startup cost: $329.3K-$1.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 83/7

TacoTime

Mexican food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #311

Startup cost: $141.7K-$817.6K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 268/0

Pancheros Mexican Grill

Mexican food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #408

Startup cost: $394.3K-$931K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 42/26

Del Taco

Mexican/American food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #483

Startup cost: $847.7K-$1.8M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 247/299
 

PIZZA

 

Pizza Hut

Pizza, pasta, wings
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #11

Startup cost: $297K-$2.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 13,248/2,357

Papa Murphy's

Take-and-bake pizza
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #19

Startup cost: $264.8K-$446.2K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,369/119

Papa John's International

Pizza
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #30

Startup cost: $129.9K-$844.2K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 4,141/752

Marco's Franchising

Pizza, subs, wings, cheese bread
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #81

Startup cost: $221.6K-$546.6K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 697/0

Hungry Howie's Pizza & Subs

Pizza, subs, bread, wings, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #88

Startup cost: $239.7K-$472K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 533/18

Jet's Pizza

Pizza, subs, wings, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #126

Startup cost: $350.7K-$615.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 350/34

Pizza Ranch

Pizza, chicken, salad bar, buffet
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #205

Startup cost: $1M-$2.8M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 183/7

Villa Italian Kitchen

Pizza, Italian food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #244

Startup cost: $296.95K-$894K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 113/158

Rosati's Pizza

Pizza, Italian food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #277

Startup cost: $136.7K-$733K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 109/19

Toppers Pizza

Pizza, breadsticks, wings
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #337

Startup cost: $262.7K-$490.6K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 73/0

Fox's Pizza Den

Pizza, sandwiches, wings, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #389

Startup cost: $110.6K-$210.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 251/0

Your Pie

Assembly-line pizza
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #391

Startup cost: $311.8K-$475.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 21/2

Ledo Pizza

Pizza, subs, pasta
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #479

Startup cost: $126.3K-$442K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 99/0

Pizza Factory

Pizza, pasta, sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #480

Startup cost: $151K-$568.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 108/1
 

RETAIL FOOD BUSINESSES

Edible Arrangements International

Sculpted fresh-fruit bouquets
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #35

Startup cost: $192.7K-$326.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,233/7

The HoneyBaked Ham Company & Cafe

Specialty ham and turkey store/caf?
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #145

Startup cost: $284.5K-$444K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 193/190

Doc Popcorn

Kettle-cooked popcorn
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #269

Startup cost: $39.5K-$355.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 100/2

Kilwins Chocolates Franchise

Chocolate, fudge, ice cream
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #298

Startup cost: $351.6K-$622.3K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 101/4

HUMAN Healthy Markets

Healthful-food distribution
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #322

Startup cost: $64.4K-$109.9K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 130/29

Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory

Chocolates, confections
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #369

Startup cost: $115.6K-$499.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 270/3

Happy & Healthy Products

Frozen fruit bars
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #390

Startup cost: $37K-$116.2K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 56/0

The Spice & Tea Exchange

Spices, teas, related products
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #412

Startup cost: $190.5K-$291.7K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 42/1

Fuzziwig's Candy Factory

Self-serve bulk candy
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #420

Startup cost: $179K-$348.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 37/3

Fresh Healthy Vending

Snack and beverage vending machines
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #481

Startup cost: $112.5K-$157.6K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 259/50
 

SANDWICHES

 

Jimmy John's Sandwiches

Sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #1

Startup cost: $323K-$544K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 2,361/58

Subway

Subs, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #5

Startup cost: $116.6K-$263.2K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 43,916/0

Firehouse Subs

Subs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #62

Startup cost: $128.8K-$1.2M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 921/32

Jersey Mike's Subs

Subs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #66

Startup cost: $177.9K-$592.9K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 1,018/42

Charleys Philly Steaks

Philly cheesesteaks, fries, lemonade
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #110

Startup cost: $153K-$450K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 490/47

Pita Pit

Pita sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #113

Startup cost: $166.1K-$322.7K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 554/16

Penn Station East Coast Subs

Grilled subs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #139

Startup cost: $269.2K-$535.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 299/1

McAlister's Deli

Sandwiches, salads, baked potatoes
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #146

Startup cost: $579K-$1.5M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 318/43

Schlotzsky's

Sandwiches, pizza, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #151

Startup cost: $503.8K-$786.98K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 314/38

Togo's Franchisor

Specialty sandwiches, salads, soups, wraps
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #179

Startup cost: $239.7K-$501K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 232/18

Which Wich Superior Sandwiches

Sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #262

Startup cost: $195K-$488.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 351/3

Capriotti's Sandwich Shop

Subs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #264

Startup cost: $363.9K-$847.7K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 92/11

Blimpie Subs& Salads

Subs, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #304

Startup cost: $69.95K-$359.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 333/4

Erbert & Gerbert's Sandwich Shops

Subs, soups
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #335

Startup cost: $189.5K-$391.7K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 62/1

PrimoHoagies Franchising

Italian subs
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #489

Startup cost: $190.6K-$332.9K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 89/0
 

SMOOTHIES

Smoothie King

Smoothies, health products
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #92

Startup cost: $181.1K-$422.95K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 747/26

NrGize Lifestyle Cafe

Smoothies, meal-replacement shakes, protein bars
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #309

Startup cost: $98.7K-$341.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 101/0

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Smoothies, wraps, salads, sandwiches, flatbreads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #399

Startup cost: $195.6K-$427.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 475/1

Surf City Squeeze

Smoothies, fruit drinks, nutritional supplements
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #488

Startup cost: $77.6K-$286.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 109/1

Robeks Fresh Juices & Smoothies

Smoothies, juices, healthful snacks
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #496

Startup cost: $228.5K-$339.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 94/0
 

MISCELLANEOUS QUICK-SERVICE RESTAURANTS

Orion Food Systems

Fast-food systems for nontraditional markets
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #93

Startup cost: $58.5K-$134K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 897/0

Dickey's Barbecue Pit

Barbecue
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #101

Startup cost: $122.1K-$503.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 533/7

Wienerschnitzel

Hot dogs, ice cream
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #142

Startup cost: $303.6K-$1.3M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 322/0

Captain D's

Seafood
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #261

Startup cost: $771K-$1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 242/272

Zoup! Systems

Soups, salads, sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #314

Startup cost: $391.7K-$561.3K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 86/2

Saladworks

Salads, soups, sandwiches
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #320

Startup cost: $494.5K-$532.8K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 101/0

Billy Sims BBQ

Barbecue
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #368

Startup cost: $169.2K-$433.1K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 45/2

Fresh Healthy Cafe

Smoothies, juices, wraps, sandwiches, salads
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #396

Startup cost: $176K-$343.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 37/0

Green Leaf's/Banana's

Salads, sandwiches, smoothies, frozen yogurt
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #402

Startup cost: $160K-$574.2K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 24/23

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue

Asian-American food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #407

Startup cost: $130.2K-$520.5K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 184/0

Taste of Mediterranean

Greek and Middle Eastern food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #430

Startup cost: $98.8K-$287.4K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 17/0

Golden Krust Franchising

Caribbean-style food
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #466

Startup cost: $173.4K-$564K

Total franchises/co.-owned: 109/5

Nathan's Famous

Hot dogs, hamburgers, seafood, chicken, cheesesteaks
2016 Franchise 500 rank: #493

Startup cost: $276.4K-$1.1M

Total franchises/co.-owned: 297/5
Tracy Stapp Herold

Written By

Entrepreneur Staff

Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.