published Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Noodles & Co. eatery planned for downtown Chattanooga

Jordan Bozeman thinks downtown Chattanooga needs more noodles.

He and his fiancee plan to open a downtown Noodles & Co. franchise, a restaurant specializing in noodle dishes from around the globe, by the middle of May.

But he's not stopping in the city. By 2015, the Chattanooga native hopes to open restaurants in East Brainerd, Hixson and Cleveland.

"We may have all four in the area sooner rather than later," he said. "The problem with Chattanooga altogether is the lack of supply of good real estate."

Bozeman is close to closing a deal on a downtown site, but still is searching for the right sites for other Noodles outlets. Still, he expects to open a new location yearly, bringing "bacon, mac & cheeseburger" pasta dishes and "Chinese chop" salads to towns in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.

Bozeman plans on opening his next restaurant in East Brainerd, but said "if a great piece of real estate was available in Hixson or Cleveland or, depending on where, North Georgia, we'd go there next."

Because he's yet to select specific locations Bozeman couldn't say the exact investment it takes to open a Noodles & Co., but building up a 25- to 35-employee restaurant could cost a couple million bucks, he said.

The former public affairs consultant is used to managing money. He recently spent 10 years helping run political and fundraising campaigns for The Pinnacle Group in Knoxville, and expects that experience should translate well to the restaurant world.

"It's not all that different," he said. "There's different clientele, but the bottom line is the same and you've got to figure out how to meet that bottom line."

Add his business experience to his fiancee's family's experience running the local Sonic Drive-In franchises, and Noodles & Co. executives are comfortable handing the couple their brand name.

"When you put those two together, energy level plus experience, you really can't find a better fit," said J.B. Hewetson, the restaurant's franchise director.

"They felt like the right choice at the right time while we're building our own nest of stores up in Knoxville and Nashville."

Noodles operates more than 250 restaurants nationwide, and will soon add its fourth Tennessee restaurant in Nashville.

About 80 percent of Noodles restaurants are company-owned.

That majority company-owned strategy is unusual for a franchisor, Hewetson said. Most franchisors try to sell a high volume of restaurants quickly, but Noodles executives prefer controlled growth over speed, he said.

So far, that strategy seems to be working. Over the past five years, Noodles & Co. has been in the top three for volume growth among competitors such as Panera Bread, he said.

Bozeman hopes to continue that success in Chattanooga. He said his experience with and dedication to the community should help his restaurants to success.

"That's a pretty big distinction I like to make when I talk to folks, because we are local," he said. "It's not just having a profitable business. It's having something you're proud to stand behind."

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