Which Wich looks to enter Bradenton, Sarasota market

MANATEE -- Finding the closest Which Wich could soon be easier for Bradenton area diners.

Dallas-based Which Wich Superior Sandwiches is close to signing a franchisee for the Bradenton-Sarasota market as part of its expansion plans.

Which Wich, where customers order subs by marking up a brown bag with a red sharpie, is scouting real estate in the area now and is close to developing two to three locations in the Bradenton-Sarasota market, said Dustin Griffiths, real estate manager for Which Wich.

"It all goes back to where we feel those Which Wich customers are living and working," Griffiths told the Herald in a phone interview. "The Bradenton and Sarasota markets fit that model of what we typically look for from a demographic perspective."

Which Wich opened its 340th store last week and opened 65 stores in 2014. In 2015, the company expects to open about 81 restaurants, Griffiths said, including its second in Tampa at the Shoppes of Carrollwood on North Dale Mabry Highway. Its first Tampa location opened near University of South Florida last year on Fowler Avenue.

The company targets areas with young working professionals ages 18 to 39 and young families, he said, and looks for locations with high visibility and traffic. The company looks for an area with at least 30,000 visits per day, heavy pedestrian traffic and likes to be near other quick-service restaurants in high-end grocery/retail anchored centers. However, finding an area that doesn't already serve sandwiches could pose an issue at the most popular centers.

Specifically, the Cortez Road area near 14th Street as well as the University Park/Lakewood Ranch area at Interstate 75 and University Parkway are intriguing locations, Griffiths acknowledged.

"We take the approach that we really want the best space available," he said. "We're not going to take a space just to take the trade area."

The stores are mainly found in shopping centers with a 1,000- to 1,600-square-foot space with an outside patio and prefers to have a

drive-through. The company also targets enclosed malls for restaurants from 600 to 1,000 square feet -- something that could fit nicely inside The Mall at University Town Center or even in one of the many shopping center projects owned by Benderson Development Co., surrounding that property.

"The interior, regional mall program is something that is really going to be a priority for us in 2015," he said.

But don't count downtown out. The shops have made their way to Main Street areas before as well as downtown cores. While downtown Bradenton will welcome a Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches shop this year on Third Avenue, there are plenty of areas within city limits that could accommodate Which Wich, said David Gustafson, executive director of the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority.

"There's an enormous amount of small retail spaces like that within the downtown core like near 13th and 9th near the ballpark," he said. "There's a menagerie of those types of spaces that certainly fall in line with their model."

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.