The opening of four new Costa Vida restaurants in four states in the past 30 days highlights the success that many franchises that got their start in Utah are experiencing nationwide.
Chains such as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Cafe Rio, Arctic Circle, Rumbi Island Grill, Costa Vida and the Iceberg all got their start in Utah and began moving across the country, said Melva Sine, president and chief executive of the Utah Restaurant Association.
"Utah is a good testing ground," Sine said.
Utahns on average eat out fewer times per week than residents of other states, she said. "If you can be successful in Utah, you can expand and probably do really well in other areas in the country."
Lehi-based Costa Vida is an example.
Company founders J.D. And Sarah Gardner opened their first restaurant in Layton in 2003. Patterning the food after some they enjoyed on a trip to Mexico's Cabo San Lucas, the chain featured fresh-made tortillas, salads and Mexican favorites such as black beans, rice, shredded beef, sweet pork, grilled chicken, chile verde, tacos, burritos and enchiladas.
With the four recent restaurant openings, the company now has 57 locations operating in 11 U.S. states and Canada. The company recently hit 41 consecutive months of same-store-sales gain.
In 2014, Costa Vida plans to open an additional 30-plus locations while entering eight new states. Although it now has a heavy presence in the western United States, it plans to expand into Missouri, Montana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois and Oregon.
"Consumers' palates are changing when it comes to fast food and the quality of the product they're receiving," Costa Vida CEO Sean Collins said. "Our customers appreciate the time and effort we put into the fresh food we serve every day."
A typical footprint for a Costa Vida restaurant is 3,000 square feet. Most have patio dining.
Sine credited Utah's educational system and its Pro Start program for helping to inspire entrepreneurship.
"That program teaches 11th- and 12th-graders to own and operate a business," she said.
She said franchising remains a popular trend because it allows restaurant operators to share costs such as advertising expenses.
"We love seeing our franchises have the necessary success to be able to open two and three additional restaurants," Collins said. "It provides great validation for us that we're doing things the right way. We're looking to continue growing across the country in all aspects, corporately, with new francisees and existing franchisees alike. What we've done this year sets a great precedent for us to continue accomplishing our goals in 2014."
Costa Vida Mexican Grill
Headquarters • Lehi
Locations • 57 restaurants in Utah and 10 other states
2014 expansion plans • Costa Vida plans to add more than 30 stores in Missouri, Montana, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Illinois and Oregon.