The first Dunkin’ Donuts location opened in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, marking a milestone in the brand’s long-awaited march to the West.
The new unit — located in a former Burger King and featuring a 24-hour drive thru — is the first of 23 in Utah planned by franchise operator Sizzling Platter LLC, with six scheduled to open before the end of the year.
Sizzling Platter, which also operates Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Sizzler and Little Caesar’s in Utah and other Western states, also has franchise agreements for Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Denver, where their first of 11 units is scheduled to open later this year, and in El Paso, Texas, where the franchisee acquired two units and later added another four.
“We’re in our second year, so we’re excited about the brand. We feel it’s a good fit,” said Ted Morton, Sizzling Platter’s chief executive. “There are a lot of East Coast transplants out here, or people familiar with the brand from other areas, so there’s a lot of pent-up demand.”
Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands Inc. has been slowly pushing the coffee-and-donut chain westward in recent years, saying the more than 7,000-unit chain could more than double in size to 15,000 U.S. locations. Dunkin’ Donuts has more than 10,500 locations worldwide.
In January, Nigel Travis, Dunkin’ Brands’ chief executive, said the brand is expected to make its return to California  by 2015, where the chain could see as many as 1,000 units in Southern California alone.
The chain had more than a dozen outlets on the West Coast in the 1990s until about 2002, when the final California location closed.
Last year the company opened one nontraditional location on the Southern California U.S. Marine base at Camp Pendleton, but further expansion was put on hold until the infrastructure to support franchise growth in the West was in place.
The further West Dunkin’ Donuts goes, however, the deeper into the territory long held by archrival Starbucks, which has about 11,000 locations in the U.S.
Dunkin’ Brands ended 2012 with about 7,306 domestic Dunkin’ Donuts units.
Morton of Sizzling Platter, however, said consumers are responding to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and other offerings as a new alternative to existing beverage and snack options.
“It’s a great product, and we’re getting great comments from our guests about the donuts, as well as the breakfast sandwiches, which are very successful,” he said. “Of course, the coffee is a little different from the traditional Starbucks, but it has been received very well. It’s surprising how many people are familiar with it.”