Fatburger Thrives by Opening Its Doors Overseas

Entering dangerous territory

While many U.S. companies avoid expansion into politically unstable locations, one American chain is flourishing in some of the world's most turbulent countries. Fatburger, a Los Angeles-based food franchise, has opened restaurants in 32 countries since 2007.

The chain once struggled financially amidst domestic competition. But now, it's valued at $125 million and has grown to 200 international locations, including Iraq, where a second store is in the works, Tunisia and Libya. CEO Andy Wiederhorn said he's planning 350 additional shops around the globe.

"Consumers all over the world love American brands, especially burgers, shakes and fries," Wiederhorn told Businessweek. "I knew there was a huge opportunity for us overseas."

Fatburger is a rarity among American companies; Businessweek noted that fewer than 1 percent expand beyond their shores. With 70 percent of the world's purchasing power based outside of the U.S., Wiederhorn has seized an opportunity.

However, expanding internationally can be, quite literally, dangerous territory, said Larry Harding, an expert at the global expansion consulting firm Radius, in an interview with Businessweek. He added that consulting firms help navigate "political, integrity and security risks in complex and hostile environments." 

Wiederhorn said he's mindful of the danger: "We are always concerned about the security of our employees. So if there is tremendous violence or risk, we won't open there."