Burger 21, a new concept started in Tampa by Front Burner Brands (owners of The Melting Pot and GrillSmith Restaurants) is already looking to franchise into new markets. The company announced on November 1, 2011 that Orlando, Fla., is the first priority growth market targeted for franchise expansion. The 21 chef-inspired burger creations and hand-dipped signature shakes has launched a growth strategy that will include more cities across the U.S.

The initiative to expand into the Orlando Market will be kicked off with an Executive Roundtable outlining the franchise opportunity. The event will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 15th from noon to 2 p.m. at the Pointe Orlando Maggiano's located at 9101 International Drive in Orlando.

Front Burner Brands opened its first corporate Burger 21 location in Westchase (November 2010) and has already opened another Burger 21 location in Carrollwood (October 2011). Burger 21 goes beyond the better burger with their premier quality and ingredients, innovative recipes and gourmet experience. They have set themselves apart from the fast food burger joints, the full-service burger restaurants and the traditional better burgers establishments.

Has Burger 21 picked a perfect time to expand? The total number of restaurants in the US has been declining over the past couple years; however, the population continues to grow. Although the economy is still rough and many people are staying home or choosing value fast food, sales and traffic numbers at many restaurants have improved. In fact, Papa John's had just reported the 2011 3Q earnings and it was one of the best in the brand's history. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers releases their quarterly earnings today after the bell.

Food costs are rising but real estate and rental property is still at an all time low. This may be a great opportunity for Burger 21 to expand. Franchising in the Orlando market, similar to its neighboring Tampa market, is a catalyst for taking brand expansion nationwide. Take Outback Steakhouse, opened 1988 in Tampa, has over 900 locations nationwide. Olive Garden, opened 1982 in Orlando has over 650 locations. Not to mention, Front Burner Brands' The Melting Pot, which opened its first location in Maitland, outside of Orlando, opened their first international location in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 2010. They also signed a seven-unit deal in Mexico and opened its first Mexico location in Mexico City.

Mark Johnston, chief concept officer of Front Burner Foods, said, "Burger 21 chose Orlando as its first priority market since the brand originated in nearby Tampa because we have strong ties to the local community, and the region is prime for economic development."

We would love to see more Burger 21's opening up here in the Tampa Bay region, but are excited to see the concept quickly taking off to other markets.

Be sure to "Like" Burger 21 on Facebook to stay tuned. Maybe they will open a location near you, if they have not already!