Apache Pizza boss aims for 40 Northern Ireland outlets in two years
Apache Pizza says it will open up to 40 outlets in Northern Ireland over the next two years, creating as many as 800 jobs.
Robert Pendleton, boss of the Irish-owned company, said the business was opening eight here this year alone.
That includes three earmarked for Belfast.
Each franchise business will create around 15 to 20 jobs, and Mr Pendleton says he wants 35 to 40 stores in Northern Ireland by 2018.
The low-cost pizza business currently has just one restaurant here, located in Portadown.
It has grown to 118 outlets across the Republic.
And it is also planning a total of 200 stores throughout the UK as part of the major expansion.
But Mr Pendleton says he's focusing on growing his business in Northern Ireland first. He said: "We have earmarked three sites in Belfast, as well as Carrickfergus, Bangor, Lisburn and Lurgan, with 15 to 20 staff per store."
Apache Pizza operates a franchise model, and Mr Pendleton said there had already been a lot of interest from Northern Ireland businesses. "We had so many calls in relation to Northern Ireland, so we decided (to go for it). It's all about getting some traction," he added.
And he said plans for 200 stores across the UK are "very conservative" based on the growth in the Republic.
"We are dipping our toe in the water first, and there is a lower price point in Northern Ireland. If it works there, it should work (elsewhere) in the UK.
"The model we have been using, it's been huge growth over the last four or five years.
"It's a low-cost model I suppose and it's royalty-free, so we supply the products. It's from one source.
"For a franchisee there is no fee for setting up, and no ongoing royalties.
"There is a commitment in training and purchasing, and we support stores in signage and branding."
Apache Pizza was launched in Dublin in 1996 and is majority owned by Mr Pendleton and his wife.
Around 2,600 staff are currently employed across the firm's franchised businesses in the Republic.
And on his potential Northern Ireland outlets he said: "I'd be fairly confident. We had expected to open 12 (in the Republic this year) and it turned out to be 21."
The arrival of Apache Pizza in Northern Ireland back in December meant it was the latest chain to expand here.
The Belfast Telegraph revealed last year that budget bakery chain Greggs was eyeing up as many as 50 stores across Northern Ireland.
And other chain restaurants have also expanded here over the last few months.
That includes Italian chains Azzurri and Carluccio's, which are both set to open at Victoria Square shopping centre.
And shortly before Christmas, US burger joint Five Guys launched its first location in Belfast.
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l Wigwammer Large Pizza (double cheese and pepperoni) £9.99, right
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l Zingy Taco Mayo Chips £3, far right
l Taco Pizza £5.50