Wendy’s, Popeyes, Wingstop, Carl’s Jnr: The US fast food giants looking to open hundreds of branches in the UK

Brits love a burger, and these brands hail the UK as a ‘huge opportunity’ - but it’s a risky move in the current climate

A number of American fast food giants are looking to expand their repertoire on our shores with plans to open hundreds of branches across the UK. Despite a recent study warning that pizza, fizzy pop and other ‘junk’ food could be as damaging to human health as cigarettes, and childhood obesity rates also at record levels, demand for fast food in the UK appears to continue to boom.

Brits might love a burger, but such a move is not without its risks, especially in the wake of the pandemic and a cost of living crisis that has sparked price inflation, staff shortages and a lack of delivery drivers. The chains are also going head to head with big rivals such as McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King which have been staples in the UK fast food market for decades.

Still, many brands have hailed the UK as a  “huge opportunity”. When Popeyes opened a branch in Nottingham earlier this year, hundreds were reported to have queued for 11 hours to get their hands on the chain’s fried chicken and gravy.

Here’s a look at all the American fast food chains that are hoping to land or expand in the UK soon.

Popeyes

Popeyes is a fried chicken chain that launched in the US in 1972 and operates more than 30,000 restaurants worldwide. The first British branch opened in November 2021 in Westfield Stratford, east London and additional sites have since opened in UK cities including Nottingham, Oxford and Gateshead.

Within a decade, the brand hopes to open and run 350 branches across the UK, with restaurants opening soon in Liverpool, Rotherham and Cardiff. Popeye’s serves chicken dishes in mild and spicy flavours and offers sides such as red beans and rice, Cajun fries, mashed potatoes and coleslaw.

In addition to chicken, Popeye’s serves seafood entrées such as shrimp and catfish. The UK is Popeyes’ fourth European market after launching in Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Wendy’s

Reading welcomed the UK’s first Wendy’s in 21 years in June 2021. The burger chain has since opened stores in Stratford, Oxford, Croydon, Brighton, Ilford, Camden, Romford and Maidstone.

Food is served at a Wendy’s restaurant in Chicago.

Wendy’s first came to the UK in 1980 but left around 20 years laters due to high operating and property costs. According to the Guardian, the brand aims to have 35 UK branches by the end of 2022.

In addition to its breakfast menu and range of burgers, the chain offers sides such as jacket potatoes, chilli con carne and its popular ‘Baconator’ fries.

Wingstop

Wingstop was founded in Texas in 1994 and runs and franchises more than 1,500 locations worldwide. It first landed in the UK in 2018 and has gone on to open restaurants Kent, Birmingham, Bristol and Edinburgh.

Additional locations offer delivery only, such as Leeds and Bermondsey in London. The brand eventually hopes to operate 100 UK restaurants in total.

Wingstop offers a ‘big flavour’ chicken burger along with its range of chicken wings and tenders, as well as loaded fries.

Carl’s Jnr

Carl’s Jnr was founded by truck driver Carl Karcher who borrowed $311 to open a cart that sold hot dogs and tamales in 1941. 80 years later the brand operates more than 3,000 restaurants worldwide.

Tim Lowther, Carl Jnr’s general manager for Europe and Russia, told Big Hospitality that the chain saw the UK as a ‘huge opportunity’ and that it was looking for ‘a master franchisee in the UK to work with’. Carl’s Jnr offers a huge range of burgers as well as a hefty breakfast menu, chicken dishes and sides such as waffle fries and fried zucchini.