Berwyn-based Italian beef institution Buona announced Tuesday it would open restaurants outside of the Chicago area and northwest Indiana under a new franchise program.

The family-owned company plans to open 100 franchised stores over the next five years in Florida, Texas, Colorado, Tennessee, Arizona and elsewhere in the Midwest, according to a news release.

“Our family has been in business since 1981. And we’ve been working really, really hard as a family and in our extended family to build a playbook that is really built for growth,” said Joe Buonavolanto III, the company’s vice president of franchise operations.

The first Buona opened in Berwyn in 1981; the company now has 25 locations in the Chicago area and northwest Indiana and one kiosk location in Denver with a limited menu. On Tuesday, the company said it also plans to open three company-owned stores each year over the next five years, including locations in northwest Indiana, southern Wisconsin and potentially southern Illinois.

The expansion states were chosen because they’re either high-growth markets or have lots of Chicago transplants, though the company isn’t limiting itself to those areas. Buona is already in talks with operators who want to open restaurants in Florida, Texas and Arizona, Buonavolanto said.

“The interest we’ve been receiving so far are from multiunit, experienced operators who want to build out a whole territory,” Buonavolanto said.

Buona franchisees will be given the option to add an Original Rainbow Cone ice cream kiosk at their restaurant, the company said. The company first partnered with the Beverly ice cream mainstay in 2018 and opened its first dual-concept restaurant in Darien last summer.

Dual-concept restaurants have since launched in Skokie, Lakemoor and Mount Prospect, with locations in Valparaiso and Lincolnshire planned to open in the next year or so.

The partnership with the nearly century-old ice cream fixture has been a success so far, Buonavolanto said.

“We’ve even seen about a 30% increase in dinner sales at those locations that have a Rainbow Cone,” he said.

Buona’s expansion comes at a time when demand for Italian beef is soaring outside the Chicago area in the wake of “The Bear,” the FX hit set amid the drama of a family-owned River North Italian beef shop.

But Buonavolanto says the TV show was not the catalyst for Buona’s out-of-Chicago expansion: The company put a franchise team together about a year ago, he said.

Oak Brook-based Portillo’s, known for hot dogs and Italian beef, is also expanding outside the Chicago area — into some of the same states where Buona is planning an entrance.

Portillo’s opened a St. Petersburg, Florida, restaurant during the second quarter and plans to open additional locations in Florida, Texas and Arizona by the end of the year, CEO Michael Osanloo said at an August earnings call.

Portillo’s has about 40 locations in the Chicago area and about 30 in other locations, a company spokesperson said Tuesday.



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