Zunzi’s + Zunzibar Announce Franchising Legend Tom Horton As The Company’s First Franchisee

Fast Casual Concept and Former Five Guys Franchisee Announce Joint Venture to Open Three Locations in Southern U.S.
Zunzi’s, the fast-casual concept beloved in Savannah and Atlanta for its award-winning sandwiches, is excited to announce the rollout of its first franchise locations in 2024, transitioning its brick-and-mortar locations to focus on the beach-themed bar concept Zunzibar as a full-service restaurant.

The three locations will be a joint venture between Zunzi’s and former Five Guys Burgers and Fries franchisee—and franchise industry legend—Tom Horton.

“We’re thrilled to be bringing in Tom Horton as our first franchisee,” says Zunzi’s + Zunzibar owner Chris Smith. “He was Five Guys’ largest franchisee, opening 97 stores across seven states. He has vast experience in franchising, but most importantly, he’s just a great guy. This is a fantastic get for us, all the way around.”

Smith describes this unique arrangement as a much-needed “punch in the gut” to the current franchise system.

“The franchise business is difficult,” he says. “There are so many horror stories where a franchisee invests a ton of money and then the franchisor can’t support them. A lot of places open 100 locations and aren’t ready for it. These franchise broker networks that put together deals between franchisors and franchisees put both of those parties at risk and have no accountability. We’re not having any part of that.”

Under the joint-venture arrangement, Smith says, “We’ll be operating the restaurants for Tom. This allows us to get our infrastructure set up the way we want it and get our systems in place so we can have a successful franchisee rollout in 2025.”

The company is eyeing a second-quarter launch for its first franchise location in Hilton Head, South Carolina, followed by a second location in Jupiter, Florida, in the third quarter of 2024, and is currently scouting sites for a third location. Those openings are the first part of a five-year plan that has Zunzi’s + Zunzibar focusing on traditional franchise sales in 2025 and pursuing aggressive franchise and corporate location growth in 2026-28.

These inaugural franchise locations also will showcase a new operating model with the Zunzibar brand front and center.

“Moving forward, our brick-and-mortar locations will feature Zunzibar as a full-service restaurant with a full menu and bar, utilizing the best aspects of our fast-casual operation, all the speed and efficiency of a fast-casual restaurant in a sit-down, dine-in setting,” Smith says.

“And we’ll be retaining the popular Zunzi’s branding for our takeout and delivery,” he continues. “If you order takeout from us or order delivery through Uber Eats, you’re dealing with Zunzi’s. But when you come in and dine with us, you’re at Zunzibar.”

Zunzibar features a beach-themed sports bar theme, offering a full menu of Zunzi’s popular award-winning sandwiches, wings, chips, and sauces, along with handcrafted beach cocktails and frozen drinks. Zunzibar will also offer live music when there are no big sporting events and will be available to host private events.

“It’s all about streamlining what we do so that we have the best possible product and concept when we start rolling out franchising on a larger scale,” Smith says. “Just like our customers, we want our franchisees to be the best possible franchisees they can be and to say ‘Sh*t, yeah!’ about working with us.”

Zunzi’s first opened its doors in 2005 with the sole purpose of filling the tummies of college students at the Savannah College of Art and Design with home-cooked meals. Since then, Zunzi’s award-winning menu has won the hearts of not only SCAD students but also locals and tourists visiting Savannah. By popular demand, Zunzi’s expanded to Atlanta, Georgia, and opened a second location in May 2018. In 2021, Zunzi’s relocated its original Savannah location and added Zunzibar, its sister beach-bar concept. A second location of Zunzibar opened in Tybee Island, Georgia, in 2023. Zunzi’s + Zunzibar is now focused on further expansion by opening company locations in Coastal Georgia and Florida. In 2022, Zunzi’s earned a spot on Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers & Shakers list, and CEO Chris Smith was recognized among Fast Casual’s Top 25 Executives. In 2020, Smith was named among QSR’s “15 Young Restaurant Leaders to Watch.” In 2019, Zunzi’s landed on Thrillist’s compilation of “The 33 Best Sandwiches in America,” and the eatery’s Conquistador was named the best sandwich in Georgia on People magazine’s “Best Sandwich in Every State” list. In 2017, Zunzi’s secured a spot on Mental Floss’ list of “The Best Sandwiches in all 50 States” and BuzzFeed’s “34 Meals That Are Actually Worth Traveling the World For.” Zagat also rated the Savannah location’s food a 4.6/5. The Conquistador was ranked among Men’s Journal’s “50 Best Sandwiches in America,” in 2015 and “Best Sandwich in the South” by Travel Channel’s Adam Richman in 2012. For more information, photos, and menus, visit zunzis.com and zunzibar.com.