By Ed Sealover Denver Business Journal Tokyo Joe’s is going through its biggest growth spurt yet — a doubling of its 28 current locations by the end of 2016 that will include the Centennial-based restaurant chain’s first franchising deals and first out-of-state expansion. We reported details of the plans and founder and chief innovation officer Larry Leith’s general reasons for the boom earlier this week at DenverBusinessJournal.com (for more, visit bizj.us/uy3fj). Here, Leith shares a few more thoughts on the company’s next phase. After 18 years of operations, why go big now? For lack of a better word, it felt right. I knew this day was coming. I knew we were grown-up enough. We’re just sort of dialed into that intuitive approach. What has changed since private-equity firm Gridiron Capital bought the company one year ago? It’s more corporate. And I say that in a positive way, because these are structures and things that are serving us well. We have analysts and statisticians and a lot of people doing great things. Before, it was just me. But everybody who was with me a year ago is still with me now. And this creates a lot of opportunity for the people with us to move up a lot faster. The Denver area has spawned myriad fast-casual chains, from Chipotle to Noodles & Company to Smashburger. Why? It probably started with the three of us — Steve Ells with Chipotle, Aaron Kennedy with Noodles and me. We didn’t all know each other then, but we started organically within the same time frame. We showed people what this [fast-casual segment] was from the get-go. What probably happened is we just sort of did it, and that’s what everybody came to know. I’m the late bloomer. What will you look for in potential franchisees in places like Arizona, Kansas City and Nebraska? There are local operators who know the market, who know the lay of the land. There will be no newbies for this. We want people with multiple restaurants already. As you grow, is there a chance Tokyo Joe’s will go public? I think that’s all very possible. Could I see that happening someday? Yeah. But another version of that’s also possible. And I think we’ll go down the road and figure that out. It’s definitely one foot in front of the other. You can run a mile in 12 minutes, and you could walk a mile in 12 minutes. Either way, you went a mile.
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