Huddle House, an Atlanta-based family restaurant chain, has announced plans to open 135 new restaurants in the Southeast and Texas during the next five years and will place at least three in the Greater Waco area, a company spokesman said Thursday.

Most Huddle House locations stay open 24 hours a day and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menu choices include the “Big House” breakfast, sandwich platters, country-fried steak, marinated grilled chicken and the “Sausage and Gravy Scramble,” according to a company release.

“When we set out to open more restaurants in Texas, we used a statistical analysis to find the best locations, and Waco and Central Texas fared very well,” franchising director Jim Carr, a longtime Texas resident, said during a phone interview.

He said he has begun talking with potential franchisees for an area that would include Waco, Hewitt, Mexia, Temple, Caldwell and Rockdale.

5-year plan

“We hope to get these restaurants built within five years, sooner if we can find a franchisee ready to roll,” Carr said.

Carr said he has spoken with a Dallas-based development group that would like to place a Huddle House in a travel plaza it hopes to build north of Waco on Interstate 35. That project would be separate from the franchise operations the company assigns to the Greater Waco area, Carr said.

Founded in 1964, Huddle House has grown to 400 locations in 21 states, with all but nine of them owned by franchisees.

Sentinel Capital Partners, a private equity firm that focuses on companies with a presence in small-to-midsize markets, acquired Huddle House in April of last year.

In 2011, Huddle House introduced a new prototype store with a fresh look and flexible seating to accommodate larger crowds. The look reportedly brought renewed attention to the chain, which enjoyed robust same-store sales increases in late 2011 and early 2012, according to published reports.

Now, Carr said, Huddle House is proceeding with aggressive expansion, aiming to add stores across Texas, and in St. Louis, Mo., Oklahoma City and Nashville, Tenn. The long-term goal, Carr said, would have the company opening 58 new outlets in Texas, where it now has 12.

Market presence

“Texas is a big state and we intend to have a presence in both primary and secondary markets,” Carr said.

Huddle House locations range from 2,200 to 2,800 square feet and seat 75 to 100 diners. Competitors in many areas include Denny’s and IHOP.

“We know Waco has those brands, but we believe there is a place for what we offer,” Carr said.

He said the typical Huddle House represents an investment of $750,000 to $820,000, not counting land costs, and employs up to 30 people. He said commercial developers make end spaces in their centers available to the chain, and these smaller stores cost $450,000 to $600,000.

A company news release said Huddle House is getting into the spirit of its Texas expansion nationwide by offering the “Big Taste of Texas” limited-time menu, which features items such as chicken-fried chicken, the bacon’que sandwich and the sausage and gravy scramble.

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