Long Islanders will be the first in New York State to get a taste of the "world kitchen" at Noodles & Company.
The Denver-based chain plans to open its first location in New York at The Gallery at Westbury Plaza in Westbury on July 31. The "fast-casual" restaurant, which sells customizable food in a style much like Chipotle or Panera Bread, will be run through Allendale, N.J.-based franchisee Doherty Enterprises Inc.
"We were looking at another franchise opportunity, and came across Noodles," CEO Ed Doherty said.
He said Doherty Enterprises has a contract to open up to 23 Noodles locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Right now the company is negotiating leases on six potential spaces on Long Island, and Doherty said he hopes to have six more restaurants open by the end of 2014. Doherty's company also operates Applebee's and Panera locations in the tri-state area.
Noodles & Company specializes in noodle and pasta dishes of American, Italian and Asian origin. Customers can pick the protein they want on dishes such as penne rosa pasta, mac & cheese, and Japanese pan noodles.
Fast-casual restaurants such as Noodles have been growing a loyal customer base as they market a healthier alternative to fast food and a cheaper and more convenient experience than a traditional sit-down restaurant, said Warren Solochek, vice president of client development for food services at Port Washington-based market research firm NPD Group.
In the last year, visits to fast-casual restaurants have gone up 9 percent, while total restaurant industry visits have remained flat, Solochek said.
Doherty said he would be interested in opening Noodles & Company locations in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, but would avoid Manhattan because of the high rent.
The Noodles chain as a whole has also focused more on suburban markets over urban, though it is working to expand into more cities, chief operating officer Keith Kinsey said. Of the 343 locations, most are in the Midwest or the chain's birthplace of Colorado, and the vast majority are company-owned.
Kinsey said there is no Noodles franchise for Manhattan and declined to comment specifically about the company's plans for the city.
"We're very disciplined about the way we grow; on the franchise side it's very opportunistic," he said. "From a company perspective New York is an important part of future growth, and we're very methodical on how we do that."
Noodles, which went public in late June at $18 per share, baffled Wall Street by doubling its initial public offering price in its first day of trading. The 104.2 percent increase was one of the best first-day returns for U.S. IPOs in the last decade. The stock closed at $42.70 per share at the end of trading Monday.