Though expanding a business abroad can mean navigating a labyrinth of legal red tape, distinct cultural traditions and wildly varying culinary preferences, a number of restaurant chains have found the world full of untapped potential for their brands.
The road beyond U.S. borders was paved by the international successes of such fast-food leaders as Yum! Brands Inc. , McDonald’s , Burger King  and Domino’s , each of which now has thousands of foreign locations. In fact, in some cases, those companies’ foreign divisions have been bright spots of quarterly and annual reports, particularly as the domestic economy softened. Specifically, China has been a particularly hot area for many chains in recent years, but experts cite ongoing opportunity in such markets as India, Russia, Brazil, Europe and Mexico.
The following is a sampling of recent activity from other chains that have cast their eyes abroad.
Chipotle Mexican Grill  announced plans to enter the European market with the opening of a London location in late 2009. Though domestic growth will remain the priority in the near term, the London location may be a jumping-off point for further European expansion, the company says.
CKE Restaurants Inc.  said thus far in fiscal 2009 it has entered a number of franchise agreements, representing 144 new international units, including debuts in three new countries: China, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. The percentage of international Carl’s Jr.  units is expected to grow from 10 percent of total locations to 20 percent in the next five years, according to CKE.
Quiznos Sub  said earlier this year it would open three units in India by 2010, as a result of a franchise agreement with HMSHost Corp.  Additionally, the company last year completed deals for development in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil. The sandwich chain, which already has restaurants operating in Canada, Central America, the United Kingdom, Korea and the Middle East, said at the time that it aimed to open as many as 500 international locations in the next two years.
Taco Maker Inc., the franchisor of more than 185 fast-food restaurants under the brands Taco Maker, Jake’s Over the Top and Mayan Juice, said earlier this month it had commitments from franchisee developers in a number of foreign markets, including India, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Russia and Spain.
Vapiano  ,an upscale-casual Italian concept that has 45 restaurants in 14 countries, said it plans to nearly double its size internationally by the end of 2009. Specifically, the chain is eyeing openings in Mexico, Australia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and France. The chain, which was founded in Hamburg, Germany, opened its first U.S. location in 2007 and plans further growth here as well.