Why Fatburger is coming back to Tampa Bay now

The burger chain used to be in the region twenty years ago, so what happened?
A cheeseburger at California chain, Fatburger, which is coming to the Tampa area.
A cheeseburger at California chain, Fatburger, which is coming to the Tampa area. [ Courtesy of Fat Brands ]
Published July 26, 2022

A fast-casual chain based in California is making its return to the Tampa Bay area.

Fatburger and its sister brand Buffalo’s Express are coming to Tampa by 2025 with its first location set for Riverview off Interstate 75, parent company Fat Brands announced last month. But the burger chain used to be in the region 20 years ago.

Fatburger had two locations in the 2000s at International Plaza and Clearwater Mall, but fast-casual concepts hadn’t taken off yet and rents were high for the time, said the CEO of Fat Brands, Andrew Wiederhorn.

Fat Brands is partnering with Whole Factor Inc. to develop a four-location franchise in Tampa and building 10 restaurants in the Orlando area. The first shop coming to Hillsborough County will be on 9950 Upper Alafia Court in Riverview.

In this conversation, Wiederhorn explains why the company is considering Tampa Bay now and how they hope to build their brand. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why are you coming to the Tampa Bay area?

It’s a solid market for us. We have a number of other brands in the market there and we have other deals in other cities in Florida for Fatburger. So we’re excited to be back on the west coast of Florida.

There used to be two Fatburger locations in Tampa Bay during the 2000s. What happened to them?

That was 20 years ago, I’m not sure that it’s very relevant to today’s environment in the burger space. But those locations were operated by a franchisee who came into the system before we acquired the brand. They were expensive locations to keep up with rent, International Plaza had very expensive rent given the sales environment at that time. I think the industry wasn’t as aware of the better burger space as it is today. So if you see higher priced value offerings for fast casual, I think that was sort of a new concept back in the early 2000s, and customers weren’t as interested in the value proposition that they do today. There’s so many years of that in the market now.

What’s attractive about the Tampa Bay area now compared to before?

There’s very strong purchasing power. There is good consumer traffic. The fast casual industry is very established today versus 20 years ago where it was really brand new and starting out. And so I think that those things lined up well. We also have tremendous brand awareness. We’ve also seen some of our other brands performed well throughout Florida and so we think this is a good opportunity for us to get back in the game.

What are some of the things you think about when building a presence in a newer region?

We always want to see developers who will want to build multiple units in a relatively short period of time so that brand awareness is prevalent. And so this particular operator is building four stores in Tampa Bay and several more in the Orlando market. So I think that those opportunities and really seeing a developer build multiple units over a relatively short period of time will help boost brand awareness. It’s a key priority, that’s always important.

Speaking of brand awareness, what do you think people in the area should know about Buffalo Express and Fatburgers?

It’s a high-quality food offering that’s made to order. It’s not fast food, it’s fast casual, so we make the order as customers want as soon as they ask. It really speaks for itself. It’s really all about experience and quality. Much more than just value.

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How do you navigate expanding the Fatburger brand with growing concerns about inflation and a recession?

We continue to see strong franchise development interest across our portfolio irregardless of inflation, and irregardless of concerns about a possible recession. So we’re seeing strong interest in the brand.

How will the Fatburger and Buffalo Express locations work together?

They’re each going to be co-branded. There’ll be the four locations with one side for each restaurant. So four stores with two sides offering both of the brands.