Franchises

The Top 20 Fast-Food Franchises of 2016

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Every year, Entrepreneur ranks the top 500 franchises. While the 2016 list features restaurants galore, we've paired it down to give you the top 20 chains in the buzzy, fast-moving world of fast food. 

The companies you see below were judged on their financial strength and stability, size and growth over the last two years. Also considered were the costs associated with opening one of these franchises and how long the company has been operating. We've provided some of that data, plus a few fun facts, to give you a whole picture of what the franchise is all about.

Now that we've chewed over the details and digested the information, check out the results below. Did your favorite place make the cut?

20. Firehouse Subs

Year began: 1994

Franchising since: 1995

Number of franchised units in 2015: 870

Startup costs: $128.8K - $1.2M

Fun fact: Brothers Robin and Chris Sorensen were firefighters before they started Firehouse Subs. Before that, they held a variety of other jobs in real estate, music and Christmas tree farming.

19. Buffalo Wild Wings

Year began: 1982

Franchising since: 1991

Number of franchised units in 2015: 590

Startup costs: $1.4M - $3.6M

Fun fact: Jim Disbrow, a co-founder of the chain, was a professional figure skater in the 1960s and the president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association from 1998 to 2000. He got the idea for Buffalo Wild Wings when he was judging a figure skating competition in Ohio; he wanted some buffalo wings and there wasn't a restaurant in the area that served them.

18. Cold Stone Creamery

Year began: 1988

Franchising since: 1994

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,224

Startup costs: $261.1K - $404.5K

Fun fact: Customers had the option to buy chocolate-covered crickets at Cold Stone locations in 2001 due to the popularity of the CBS reality show Survivor. Those who ate the insects scored free ice cream on their next visit.

17. Cinnabon

Image credit: Cinnabon | Facebook

Year began: 1985

Franchising since: 1986

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,306

Startup costs: $181.1K - $387.5K

Fun fact: The cinnamon used in Cinnabon's products comes from Indonesia and is called Makara cinnamon. Pillsbury also uses this specific source for its flavor.

16. Carl's Jr.

Year began: 1945

Franchising since: 1984

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,257

Startup costs: $1.3M - $1.9M

Fun fact: Before breaking into the burger biz, Carl's Jr. founder Carl Karcher owned hot dog carts in Los Angeles.

Related:Chick-fil-A Just Swapped This 49-Year-Old Menu Item for a Kale Salad

15. KFC

Image credit: KFC | Facebook

Year began: 1930

Franchising since: 1952

Number of franchised units in 2015: 14,162

Startup costs: $1.3M - $2.5M

Fun fact: Colonel Sanders, the founder of KFC, never earned the rank of colonel in the military. He was a Kentucky colonel, a title of honor awarded by the state of Kentucky. 

14. Dairy Queen

Year began: 1940

Franchising since: 1944

Number of franchised units in 2015: 6,529

Startup costs:  $356.5K - $1.8M

Fun fact: Dairy Queen's former employees include celebrities such as Gwen Stefani, Martina McBride and Bonnie Hunt, as well as former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

13. Auntie Anne's

Year began: 1988

Franchising since: 1989

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,602

Startup costs: $196.5K - $370.1K

Fun fact: During Auntie Anne's "Pretzel Rolling Olympics," a store manager from New Jersey named Jackie Neal was able to create a pretzel from dough in 3.5 seconds

12. Papa John's

Year began: 1985

Franchising since: 1986

Number of franchised units in 2015: 3,993

Startup costs: $129.9K - $844.2K

Fun fact: John Schnatter started Papa John's with $1,600 worth of used restaurant equipment and operated out of a broom closet in his father's tavern.

11. Baskin-Robbins

Year began: 1945

Franchising since: 1948

Number of franchised units in 2015: 7,627

Startup costs: $90.4K - $396.1K

Fun fact: From the Baskin-Robbins website: "Baskin Robbins is the current Guinness World Record holder for the largest cup of ice cream. It was made on September 13, 2005, in celebration of its 60th birthday. This massive chunk of vanilla ice cream weighed 8,865 pounds!"

Related: Former Costco Executive Launches First Ever Certified Organic Fast-Food Chain

10. Sonic

Image credit: Sonic | Facebook

Year began: 1953

Franchising since: 1959

Number of franchised units in 2015: 3,127

Startup costs: $1.1M - $1.97M

Fun fact: Sonic restaurants were almost named "Top Hat," but that name was already trademarked. Since the slogan for the company was "Service at the speed of sound," they renamed the venture Sonic.

9. Papa Murphy's

Year began: 1981

Franchising since: 1982

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,369

Startup costs: $264.8K - $446.2K

Fun fact: Papa Murphy's got it's name because in 1995, Terry Collins decided to merge the two pizza chains he'd previously acquired -- Papa Aldo's Pizza, based in Oregon and Murphy's Pizza, based in California. 

8. Taco Bell

Year began: 1962

Franchising since: 1964

Number of franchised units in 2015: 5,272

Startup costs: $1.2M - $2.6M

Fun fact: This past November, the building that housed the first Taco Bell was transported from its birthplace in Downey, Calif., to Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, Calif. -- a 45-mile road trip.

7. Jack in the Box

Year began: 1951

Franchising since: 1982

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,818

Startup costs: $1.3M - $2.4M

Fun fact: Jack in the Box was early to the bacon mashup trend, offering a bacon milkshake back in 2012.

6. Hardee's

Image credit: Hardee's | Facebook

Year began: 1961

Franchising since: 1962

Number of franchised units in 2015: 1,894

Startup costs: $1.3M - $1.9M

Fun fact: Hardee's began franchising internationally in the 1970s, starting in Australia and what was then West Germany.

Related: Are Flavored Buns The Next Fast Food Frontier?

5. Pizza Hut

Year began: 1958

Franchising since: 1959

Number of franchised units in 2015: 13,248

Startup costs: $297K - $2.1M

Fun fact: In 2015, Pizza Hut's longest-running restaurant closed its doors. It was 55.

4. Dunkin Donuts

Year began: 1950

Franchising since: 1955

Number of franchised units in 2015: 11,460

Startup costs: $217.3K - $1.6M

Fun fact: The coffee excellence manager at Dunkin Donuts tastes an average of 200 cups of coffee a day.

3. McDonald's

Year began: 1955

Franchising since: 1955

Number of franchised units in 2015: 29,712

Startup costs: $989.4K - $2.2M

Fun fact: McDonald's, which has struggled to keep up with customers' demands for healthier, quality food, scored a win when it introduced all-day breakfast in 2015.

2. Subway

Image credit: Subway | Facebook

Year began: 1965

Franchising since: 1974

Number of franchised units in 2015: 43,916

Startup costs: $116.6 K - $263.2 K

Fun fact: Subway announced in June 2015 that it would begin eliminating artifical colors, flavors and preservatives from its menu over the next 18 months.

1. Jimmy John's

Year began: 1983

Franchising since: 1993

Number of franchised units in 2015: 2,238

Startup costs: $323 K - $544 K

Fun fact: Jimmy John's is the highest-ranked franchise among the entire Franchise 500 for 2016, climbing from the number six slot in 2015. The company's founder, Jimmy John Liautaud, started out by handing out free sandwiches to college students in Mattoon, Ill., in the 1980s.

Related: What's Hot in Franchising? The Big Takeaways From Our Franchise 500 Ranking.