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Chaps Pit Beef seeks to open 60 franchises

After 28 years, Baltimore pit beef restaurant Chaps looks to open franchises.

Baltimore roadside pit beef restaurant Chaps is eyeing an expansion, owner Bob Creager said Sunday.

Creager, a former steelworker who started the restaurant 28 years ago in a small shack on Pulaski Highway, said he wants to open a second location within six months and grow the business into 60 franchise locations over the next five years.

"The discussion was, 'How far do you want to go?' I'll go to Russia. I'll go to Dubai. Why wouldn't you shoot your sights high?" Creager said.

To start, Creager is looking closer to home with a second location, possibly in the Catonsville area or near Security Square Mall, but no decisions have been made.

Creager said he's teamed up with MBB Management, a consultant firm based in Mickleton, New Jersey.

They created a playful video in the style of a British television news report posted to Chaps' Facebook page: "Baltimore, Maryland's own Chaps Pit Beef has just announced its plans to franchise and expand across the country," an accented anchor says in the video. "The restaurant plans to bring its famous charcoal style pit beef to hungry fans around the nation."

The restaurant opened in 1987 in a stand with no electricity or phone line in the parking lot of the Gentlemen's Gold Club. Chaps is known for its charcoal cooked beef that is thinly sliced and eaten in a sandwich. Guy Fieri, one of a number of television food show hosts to visit, said the sandwiches made his toes tingle when he ate one on the Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."

Creager said he immediately heard from people who said, "Don't do it! It's not going to be the same." But he said he's committed to bringing the business "to the next level" and expects to remain intimately involved with every expansion.

The menu at future locations is likely to be pared down to the basics that will allow customers to choose between meats and bread. He wants all the locations to have an open kitchen.

He said he started talking to MBB about two or three months ago, but had thought about expanding for years. The consultants are expected to visit the restaurant this week to "dissect every nut and bold, every piece of meat and look at the products and the pricing" to figure out how to duplicate its success, Creager said.

"I told them I am in a hurry," Creager said. "After 28 years of the same product and consistency, I think we can duplicate it. It's time to take my shot."

Creager said he likes MBB's "track record and years of experience." The company also works with the Philly cheese steak maker Tony Luke's, among other restaurants.

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