St. Louis-based quick-service chain Lion’s Choice is re-entering the market with two new locations set to open in November.
It broke ground this week for a location at 4049 S. Little Blue Parkway, Independence (at Interstate 70 near Menards).
The other location will be at 14189 W. 135th St. in Olathe.
Lion’s Choice was founded in 1967 as Red Lion Beef House and built a cult following on the way to its current 27 locations in the St. Louis area.
It is known for its slow-roasted beef sandwiches, shaved thin and served with a dash of its secret seasonings on a toasted bun, as well as roasted turkey, hickory smoked ham, Italian beef, pulled pork and French dip sandwiches, hotdogs and sides including baked potato, coleslaw, veggie sticks, salads, chili and soups, freezes (a blend of orange syrup with shake mix), cookies, concretes, shakes and sundaes.
Along with the roast beef, fans seem to favor the fries (brined and blanched then fried), mini frozen custard cones for 25 cents (dipped in chocolate for an additional 25 cents) and crushed ice in drinks.
Its kids meals come with a choice of sides including veggie sticks and dip, and applesauce.
After a successful test of breakfast at its new O’Fallon, Ill., location, Lion’s Choice also will offer breakfast at its two new Kansas City locations, serving such items as Steak ’N Egg flatbread sandwiches, a Florentine egg white flatbread sandwich, fresh baked goods and yogurt parfaits from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily. The restaurants will be open until 10 p.m.
The metro locations will be new constructions featuring the chain’s new exterior and layout, including its sauce bar, pick-up area for to-go customers who pre-order online, drive-through and patio.
CEO Mike “Kup” Kupstas had lived in Leawood for five years while working for Long John Silvers and then moved to St. Louis to work for Panera Bread Co. for 18 years. He joined Lion’s Choice in early 2017.
In a phone interview on his way to Kansas City Thursday morning, Kupstas said the company has been planning to expand to other markets since it was purchased by Millstone Capital Advisors in St. Louis in 2013.
“You can push a brand into a city versus being pulled. We are being pulled. We get four to five requests a day: ‘When are you coming to Kansas City? I have to get my Lion’s Choice fix,’” he said. “We think this is a 12- to 15-store market.”
The plan is to quickly expand to benefit from “efficiencies and brand awareness,” he said. Three more locations are scheduled to open in 2019, and the company is looking at sites in Lee’s Summit, Liberty, Mission and Overland Park.
The company also is looking at such markets as Nashville and Des Moines.
Annual store sales on average are $1.4 million to $1.5 million.
To introduce the brand to Kansas City, Lion’s Choice will set up its food truck, The Lean Roast Beef Machine, here for the summer. It is currently parked next to Menards in Independence.
Lion’s Choice has been here before. It had one location at 7337 W. 119th St., Overland Park, from 1999 to 2002, under its previous ownership. Unforked currently operates in the spot.
So 16 years after it left the chain left the market, the new Lion’s Choice ownership group is “putting the people, processes and support in place to allow for sustained growth of the brand, starting in Kansas City,” Kupstas said.