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Hamra Ready To Expand Potbelly Franchise

2 min read

His father put him to work when he was 12, says Ryan Hamra, owner of the Potbelly Sandwich Shop in Little Rock, and now at 39, he’s still working hard, preparing to open at least four more Potbelly restaurants in Arkansas in the next four years, an agreement that “secures me the entire state of Arkansas.”

He’s looking at properties but nothing is set in stone, Hamra said. He does hope to have a new Potbelly open by December at the latest, “preferably central Arkansas, unless something comes up that I’d need to jump on in northwest Arkansas.”

Hamra was introduced to Potbelly when he lived in Chicago, where it originated and where it’s based, and always thought it would be a good addition to Little Rock.

Potbelly has more than 400 stores, and only a few of those are franchised, Hamra said. “They’re very selective,” he said. “They prefer to own their own stores, but for smaller markets like Little Rock, they prefer to go in and franchise those out. There’s only about 25 franchisees out of the 400 stores.”

Hamra loves the food but what drew him to the Potbelly franchise was how much support it gives to its franchisees. “They want to make sure you succeed. And that’s rare in a lot of franchises.”

Longtime readers of Arkansas Business will remember Jerry Hamra, Ryan’s father and founder of the 34-store Wendy’s of Little Rock restaurant franchise, one of the most successful in the nation. Jerry Hamra died in 1995 when Ryan was just 18 and a senior at Catholic High and the business was sold.

From his father, Ryan said, he learned his work ethic. Jerry Hamra first put young Ryan to work at the age of 12 at the Wendy’s on Rodney Parham Road, “cleaning the dining room, cleaning toilets, washing dishes. I did that every summer till I was 16. And then once I was able to drive, we were really expanding in northwest Arkansas, so I’d go and work in those new stores up there.”

“But I enjoyed it. It’s one of those things — why the restaurant business? I ask myself that every day. The hours aren’t great. It’s a lot of hard work. But I keep going back to it.”

Ryan now has three children of his own. He has already put his 7-year-old to work, but before opponents of child labor take up arms, Hamra adds: “He was on spring break and he wanted to come in and have fun for a day.”

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