Potbelly plans European location

Potbelly CEO plans more international locations

Potbelly plans to open its first sandwich shop in Europe next year, CEO Aylwin Lewis said Tuesday.

Potbelly got its start in 1977, when an antiques store on Chicago's Lincoln Avenue began offering warm sandwiches and desserts to customers. Its second shop opened in 1997, and the company went public in October 2013.

Now the company, known for toasted sandwiches and milkshakes, is looking at further international expansion.

Potbelly will be "in a large European capital in the early part of next year," Lewis said, without naming the city.

"We will eventually have more shops outside of North America than we have in North America," Lewis said, speaking at an Executives' Club of Chicago event. He said the additional international locations will be run by franchisees, following a model it already uses for a dozen shops in the Middle East.

Lewis, who serves as chairman, CEO and president, acknowledged during Tuesday's discussion that Potbelly had "stumbled" after its IPO, even though the company believed it had plans such as innovation in place to do well in the quarters after its public debut.

Issues such as sales declines at existing locations forced Potbelly's executives to look at everything they had done, Lewis said.

Now, Potbelly is putting more emphasis on areas such as digital efforts to reach customers.

Potbelly's comparable sales, or sales at company-operated stores open at least 15 months, rose 1.5 percent in 2013. But the company previously said it expected such sales to be flat to down in a low single-digit percentage range this year.

Potbelly opened its first franchise shops in 2011. The company already has 12 franchise locations in Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. It also has a small number of franchise locations in the United States.

Shares of Potbelly rose 2.6 percent to $11.96 in midday Nasdaq trading.

When Potbelly went public, the shares priced at $14 and ended their first day of trading at $30.77.

jwohl@tribpub.com

Twitter @jessicawohl

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