A&W plans to add 20 Madison-area restaurants

The fast-food brand believes it can create 240 new jobs in the region.
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A frosty mug of root beer could soon be easier than ever to enjoy, as A&W plans to aggressively target the Greater Madison region for expansion in the near future.

The 102-year-old global franchise known for its root beer, roadside stops, and all-American experience hopes to add 20 restaurants to the region soon, potentially adding up to 240 jobs in the area. Currently, there are five A&W locations near Madison in Deforest, Edgerton, Lodi, Jefferson, and Windsor, part of its portfolio of 50 locations across Wisconsin and more than 500 companywide.

According to John Palumbo, A&W’s senior director of franchise development, while the COVID-19 pandemic hit the overall restaurant industry hard, A&W saw its ninth straight year of positive growth, surging 9.7% in 2020. That brand growth coupled with Madison’s population surge and its position as the fastest growing municipality in the state makes the region ripe for a fast-food brand, even in parts of the market where other brands won’t grow, notes Palumbo.

“Madison is one of the many markets where A&W aims to grow,” says Palumbo. “This does not mean we’re zeroed in on adding 20 restaurants in downtown Madison. We look at all the communities that feed into Madison, like Waunakee, Fitchburg, Sun Prairie, Waterloo, and more. We’re strategic in identifying the perfect spot to open an A&W Restaurant. We look to see if there’s demand for a fast-casual restaurant, if a location is underserved by bigger chains, and more.”

That’s not to say A&W has 20 new franchises already lined up. On the contrary, the company is still seeking franchise opportunities locally. Palumbo explains that if a qualified individual or existing franchisee from Madison or surrounding communities comes forward saying they’d like to open a new restaurant, the company will work with them to identify the right spot.

“We’ve identified Madison and Milwaukee, as well as other upper Midwest cities, as two top markets for growth because we believe these markets and all the towns covered in those designated market areas are underserved by bigger chains, giving us the chance to stand out,” says Palumbo. “We find that our brand resonates with people who are looking for authenticity, quality, and value. The small-town feel of these towns and cities mixes well with our status as a classic American experience.”

Jobs created at the new A&W sites would vary by location, ranging from full-time manager positions to part-time positions working in the kitchen or as a cashier. As Palumbo notes, these part-time positions aren’t for nothing, however. “A number of our franchisees started out working at an A&W when they were teenagers and then felt inspired to continue their journey with the brand later on.”

Palumbo says A&W finds itself in the enviable position to grow in large part because of how its stand-alone, drive-thru model propelled the brand through the pandemic. However, the company’s future plans are focused squarely on new stand-alone restaurants with a full dining room.

“We know these locations will be successful,” explains Palumbo. “In fact, our stand-alone drive-thru model saw a 14% increase in average unit volume in 2020, which separates us from our competitors who suffered sales dips due to the pandemic. A&W was a true comfort to people in a difficult year because it’s familiar, reliable, and indulgent. [But while] our drive-thru model played a huge role in our 2020 success, when people think of A&W, they think of a frosty mug of our root beer, which you can only get in a dining room.”

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