Updated December 26, 2018.
Entrepreneurs who want to ride the coffee wave to business success have a diverse range of offerings among the top 25 coffee franchises for 2019. Conspicuously absent from this list, however, is the world’s biggest coffee chain of all, Starbucks, because it does not franchise in the United States. But there are still plenty of options for those interested in a coffee franchise.
The projection for coffee house sales is expected to grow from $23.4 billion in 2017 to $28.7 billion by 2021. Coffee is the second most popular beverage in the U.S., outranked only by water. What’s interesting, however, is that the number of people who drink regular “drip” coffee has fallen to only half of all coffee-drinkers. What has grown in popularity are gourmet and specialty coffees. It is the younger coffee drinkers driving the shift towards espresso-based coffee drinks.
The variety of specialty coffee franchises has grown to meet the rising demand for gourmet coffee drinks, ranging from such venerable giants as Dunkin’ Donuts and Tim Hortons to many new entrants offering a wide range of concepts and models. And most coffee shops also offer an extended menu of both beverages and food items along with whatever specific ambience it has cultivated to appeal to consumers.
Here are our picks for the 25 best coffee franchises of 2019:
1. Dunkin’ Donuts
Dunkin’ Donuts is the undisputed champion of coffee franchises with thousands of locations and 2017 revenues of $861 million. The chain’s parent company, Dunkin’ Brands, also owns the Baskin-Robbins chain of ice cream shops. America Runs on Dunkin’ is the well-known catch-phrase that the chain has used since 2006. In September 2018 the company announced it would be changing the chain’s name, dropping “Donuts” such that beginning in January 2019 the company will be branded as just Dunkin’.
Dunkin’ Donuts dates back to 1948 when William Rosenberg opened a coffee and donut shop called Open Kettle, then changed the name to Dunkin’ Donuts in 1950 and started franchising in 1955. The number of locations has continued its steady upward march from 8,082 in 2008 to the current total of 12,676, none of which are company-owned and 3,415 of which are located outside the U.S. This company currently ranks #3 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list.
2. Tim Hortons
Tim Hortons is Canada’s largest quick-service restaurant chain known mostly for its coffee and donuts, but presenting a menu that includes breakfast and lunch sandwiches, wraps, and soups, as well as baked goods and ice cream supplied by Cold Stone Creamery. The chain was started by Canadian hockey legend Tim Horton in 1964. After Horton died in a car accident in 1974, investing partner Ron Joyce took over the company and expanded. From 1995-2006 the chain was merged with Wendy’s and then spun off and became a public company until it was merged with Burger King in 2014, which in turn is controlled by Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital.
Although this company is not currently ranked on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list, this may only be due to the fact that it has not reported its data for several years. According to the company’s annual report, at the end of 2017 there were 4,748 locations, an increase of 135 over the previous year’s total. Of these, 26 are company-owned.
3. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf got its start in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, California in 1963, when founder Herb Hyman started importing and roasting his own coffee. The company puts a lot of effort into sourcing its coffee and tea in socially conscious ways, building direct relationships with farmers and growers. Its motto of “impacting lives from seed to cup” includes the company’s Caring Cup initiative that supports local school children in the U.S., company employee development, and improving the communities and lives of the people who grow the coffee and tea.
There are now more than 1,200 locations in the U.S. (seven states and the District of Columbia) and 29 other countries.
4. Biggby Coffee
Biggby Coffee got its start back in the mid-1990s when Bob Fish and Mary Roszel converted an old Arby’s restaurant into a coffee shop called Beaner’s in East Lansing, Michigan. Unaware that “beaner” is a word some use to derogatorily refer to Mexicans, in 2007 they changed the name to Biggby since the company logo is a “big B” and it sounded fun. In addition to coffee beverages, the menu includes bagels, bagel sandwiches, muffins, Kind bars, cookies, donut holes, and yogurt parfait.
The chain has grown rapidly over the last ten years, increasing the number of locations from 85 in 2007 to its current 230 locations, all of which are franchised in the U.S.
5. Dunn Brothers Coffee
Dunn Brothers Coffee was started by two brothers, Ed and Dan Dunn. They learned about coffee roasting when they lived in Portland, Oregon. They moved to the Twin Cities area and opened Dunn Brothers Coffee in the 1980s. The chain is committed to daily small-batch, in-store roasting of coffee beans to achieve a richer, fresher quality. The roasting can only be performed by roasters who have completed the Dunn Brothers Coffee Certified Roaster Program.
This company currently ranks #442 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1987 and franchising since 1994, the number of locations has declined over the past 10 years from 96 in 2008 to the current total of 79, of which four are company-owned and all are located in the U.S.
6. PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans
PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans dates back to the 1970s when Phyllis Jordan (PJ) opened a coffee shop in the Carrollton neighborhood of New Orleans. She expanded with additional company-owned locations around New Orleans and then started franchising the concept in 1989 to expand throughout the Southeast and around the nation. She sold the company in 2002 to Atlanta-based Raving Brands, but subsequently returned to New Orleans in 2008 when it was purchased by New Orleans Brew. PJ’s has positioned itself as a competitor to Starbucks and has a similar menu.
Founded in 1978 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 52 in 2012 to the current total of 84, none of which are company-owned and four of which are located outside the U.S.
7. Gloria Jean’s Coffee
Gloria Jean’s Coffee dates back to the late 1970s when Gloria Jean Kvetko opened the first location in Chicago, Illinois. The chain found initial growth success by focusing on mall-based locations. The menu features a wide array of both hot and cold gourmet coffee beverages. Gloria Jean’s also sells a selection of its ground coffees through a subscription service, with an emphasis on flavored coffees. In 2014, the chain was purchased by Australian company Retail Food Group, which began an aggressive push for international growth.
This company currently ranks #274 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations currently stands at 854, none of which are company-owned and 800 of which are located outside the U.S.
8. Scooters Coffee
Scooters Coffee was founded by Don and Linda Eckles with their first drive-thru coffeehouse in Bellevue, Nebraska, naming it after their daughter’s nickname, which was Scooter. The chain is committed to high-quality coffee drinks and customer-focused speedy service as captured in the company motto: Amazing People, Amazing Drinks… Amazingly Fast! Every coffee drink can be served up hot, iced, or blended, and the menu also includes tea and smoothies along with a selection of pastries, sandwiches, and burritos.
This company currently ranks #414 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1998 and franchising since 2001, the number of locations has more than doubled over the past 10 years from 76 in 2008 to the current total of 187, of which 16 are company-owned and all are located in the U.S.
9. Maui Wowi
Maui Wowi is a chain of Hawaiin coffee and smoothie shops that dates back to 1982 when Jeff and Jill Summerhays opened the first location to offer up a healthier alternative to sugar-heavy, fat-laden products offered by others. It also emphasizes a laid-back, “flip-flop attitude” while at the same time emphasizing “Ohana” or a family-like community among franchisees. Their smoothies feature proprietary non-fat yogurt recipes, exotic fruit juices, fruit purees, and all-natural flavorings.
The company started franchising in 1997 but the number of locations has been in decline in recent years from 370 in 2010 to the current total of 144, none of which are company-owned and five of which are located outside the U.S.
10. The Human Bean
The Human Bean is a drive-thru espresso shop that got its start back in the late 1990s with the first location in Ashland, Oregon. It remains largely a Western states chain. The company has its own coffee sourcing program, Farm Friendly Direct, that builds long-term relationships with coffee farmers, encouraging them to grow their coffee sustainably. The company pays them above-market prices to allow for investing in their communities by funding local infrastructure improvement projects. The company does not charge franchisees any ongoing percentage-of-sales royalty or marketing fees, earning its revenues instead from the sale of coffee and supplies to franchisees.
This company currently ranks #336 on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1998 and franchising since 2002, the number of locations has risen over the past 10 years from 47 in 2008 to the current total of 79, of which 13 are company-owned and all are located in the U.S.
11. Aroma Joe’s Coffee
Aroma Joe’s Coffee is a drive-thru coffee chain founded by two sets of brothers who were born and raised in Berwick, Maine: Marty and Tim McKenna and their cousins Brian and Mike Sillon. The first location they opened was just a kiosk in a New Hampshire parking lot. Their three laws of service are: No intercoms. No mistakes. No attitudes. It caters to a relatively young demographic with its hot and cold coffee drinks and its own branded Rush energy drink.
Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Portland, Maine, franchising began in 2013 and there are currently 59 locations, only one of which is company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
12. Coffee Beanery
Coffee Beanery dates back to the mid-1970s when husband and wife team JoAnne and Julius Shaw opened the first location in Dearborn, Michigan to sell “specialty coffees,” which was something new to most Americans in those days. In addition to coffee and tea, the menu features smoothies and other beverages along with an array of breakfast sandwiches, toasted signature sandwiches, paninis, and specialty wraps.
Founded in 1976 and franchising since 1985, legal troubles with franchisees have caused the number of locations to steadily decline over the last 10 years from 112 in 2009 to its current total of 60, one of which is company owned and 19 of which are located outside the U.S.
13. DRNK coffee + tea
DRNK coffee + tea was founded by Thomas Nariman, who had previous experience opening and operating franchises such as Johnny Rockets and Pinkberry. The fledgling chain presents a wide selection of both hot and cold organic coffees and teas, handcrafted organic espresso drinks, and juices, along with a variety of fresh-made breakfast items, paninis, wraps, and salads. It has a greater focus on quality teas than most coffee shops, and focuses on organic and ethically-sourced products.
Founded in 2013 and franchising since 2015, there are now 14 locations, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
14. Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea
Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea got its start back in 1993 when husband and wife team Wei and Lisa Bee opened the first location in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The concept presents a classic café experience of coffee and tea drinks with diverse global influences. In addition, the chain offers a selection of frozen drinks and other beverages, pastries, desserts, and light fare such as quiche, sandwiches, salads, and yogurt parfaits. Sweetwaters also retails its own coffee blends and bottled teas.
Franchising since 2004, the company website currently lists 11 locations with eight in Michigan, two in Ohio, and one in California along with another six listed as “coming soon.”
15. Ziggi’s Coffee
Ziggi’s Coffee started out in downtown Longmont, Colorado in 2004 as a small coffee shop opened by husband and wife team Brandon and Camrin Knudsen. The chain emphasizes sourcing its coffee and food ingredients from local vendors whenever possible. The menu features coffee, coffee alternatives, frozen “blenderz,” fruit smoothies, and a small selection of food items. Store formats include double drive-thrus, café with drive-thru, and just a café, although the primary emphasis has always been on the double drive-thru model.
The company website currently lists 13 locations across Colorado, one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and another eight are listed as “coming soon.”
16. Café Barbera
Café Barbera – The Italian Coffee House is a company that goes all the way back to 1870 when founder Domenico Barbera opened his first coffee shop in southern Italy. A full 148 years later, it is still a family-owned company that serves premium authentic Italian roasted coffee beans sourced from seven varieties of the world’s finest coffee beans, slow roasted separately, and then blended into the company’s original recipe. In addition to hand-brewed coffee drinks, the menu features Italian-inspired panini sandwiches, Mediterranean-style salads, and light croissant breakfasts.
Franchising didn’t begin until 2004 and the company website currently lists 39 locations in 16 countries, including just one in the U.S. in Tampa, Florida.
Cafe2U is an Australian-based mobile coffee shop concept that requires a much lower up-front investment from franchisees than traditional coffee shop concepts. Vans equipped with coffee-making equipment allow franchisees to serve up all manner of coffee drinks anywhere and everywhere. The first prototype of its espresso and coffee van was launched in Sydney, Australia back in 2000.
Franchising since 2004, this chain has not reported data to Entrepreneur magazine since 2014 when there were 241 locations, but the company website only mentions 167 locations, though it’s not clear if this is up-to-date information.
18. Classic Rock Coffee
Classic Rock Coffee brings a concept similar to Hard Rock Café to the world of coffee. The menu features coffee, frappes, smoothies, protein shakes, pastries, sandwiches, flatbreads, salads, and more with classic rock always playing in an upbeat ambience. The first location was established in Springfield, Missouri in 2011.
The company website currently lists 8 locations open, with six in the U.S., one in Nepal, and one in Nigeria. Another 11 are set to open soon in the U.S. and several more in various countries around the world.
19. Rock ‘n’ Joe Coffee Bar
Rock ‘n’ Joe Coffee Bar is a chain featuring specialty coffees from Dillanos Coffee Roasters, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and pastries combined with rock music and memorabilia in a laid-back setting that feels like an exclusive backstage lounge. Its artisan coffees include such creatively-named options as Velvet Underground, Sledgehammer, Unplugged, and Black Dog.
The first location was established in New Jersey back in 1993. There are now five in New Jersey, two in Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh area) and one in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2013, the chain was purchased by Ablak Holdings with plans to take it nationwide.
20. Bottoms Up Espresso
Bottoms Up Espresso came up with a unique concept when it opened its first location in Modesto, California: Unique coffee beverages served up by sexy baristas in bikinis. Think of it as the Hooters concept applied to coffee, with a slightly different anatomical focus. The menu features an array of classic coffee drinks, smoothies to which customers can add soy or whey protein, and “Twisted Energy” fruit-juice drinks to which customers can add an energy shot. The company also markets a large selection of company merchandise that includes apparel, drinkware, outerwear, hats, and accessories.
Founded in 2011, there are now seven locations, all in central California, but the company website lists Chandler, Arizona as a “coming soon” location.
21. Xpresso Delight
Xpresso Delight is taking a unique approach to franchising in the coffee industry by bringing a café-quality coffee experience into workplaces with its range of fully-automated gourmet espresso coffee systems. The equipment is manufactured in both Switzerland and Italy, is easy to use, and produces high-quality cappuccinos, lattes, and espresso drinks in just 30 seconds.
Headquartered in Australia, the company was co-founded by Paul Crabtree and Stephen Sptiz in 2004 and has become a fast-growing franchise throughout Australia and New Zealand with more than 200 franchisees around the world, including the first two in the U.S., both located in New York City.
22. Euro Café
Euro Café was started in 1997 in Virginia and can be found within 15 Hudson News and Hudson Bookseller locations inside airports in the U.S. and Canada. There are also two standalone Euro Markets that include Euro Cafés, as well as locations on five campuses of the Northern Virginia Community College system for a grand total of 22 locations.
The menu features a range of both hot and cold coffee and coffee alternative beverages, frozen drinks, fruit smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, salads, wraps, hot and cold sandwiches, hot paninis, burgers, soups, rice bowls, kabobs, and other food items.
23. Hard Bean Coffee
Hard Bean Coffee is different from the typical franchise model. Founder and CEO Scott Bortz had opened several different coffee stands, including one he called Hard Bean Café after the type of coffee beans roasters call “hard” – more flavorful and typically grown at higher altitudes.
His program is one that helps people plan, build, and open their own independent coffee shop for a flat fee without ongoing royalty payments. Owners can give their shops whatever name they like along with the tagline powered by Hard Bean Coffee. The company also has The Buying Co-Op that allows coffee shop owners to leverage their collective buying power to purchase coffee and coffee-making equipment.
The company website says Hard Bean Coffee has helped to establish more than 100 different independent coffee shops over the past 20 years.
24. The American House
The American House is a new coffee and tea chain focused on organic and natural products that has as much focus on retailing its tea, coffee, herbs, and spice products in bulk as serving up prepared drinks to customers. Store ambience is a throwback to simpler times with a historic feel to its décor. It positions itself as an alternative to the “overly-commercialized” coffee shops of other chains and caters to the growing segment of consumers looking for more natural and healthy products.
The first location has been established in San Diego, California, and though the company’s franchising program has been underway for more than a year, there is still just the one location.
25. Cuppy’s Coffee
Cuppy’s Coffee offers several different store formats, including drive-thru, café, mall kiosk, and mobile coffee cart options. In addition to specialty coffee drinks, the menu also features smoothies made from real fruit free from artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors and sweetened only with natural fruit juices along with a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack foods.
After several previous company owners got themselves into legal trouble of various kinds, the company is being revived by Kenneth Kopp who announced plans for aggressive franchise expansion in 2016. The chain’s previous 33 locations were all closed and there is now just one location, which opened in September 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to growth momentum and brand equity. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.