Revised and updated November 21, 2019.
Baked goods can cover a huge range of products that includes cookies, cupcakes, donuts, cake, all kinds of other pastries, bread, muffins, biscuits, pretzels, bagels, and even kolaches – all of which are represented on this list of the top 25 baked goods franchises of 2020.
The bakery café market in the US is now worth an eye-popping $11.2 billion, in part due to the rising popularity of getting something for breakfast on-the-go – and many of the companies on this list carry items that are thought of as good for breakfast.
This segment of the overall food category tends towards a fast-casual approach that combines the quality and taste of full-service establishments with the speed and affordability of fast food. Here are the 25 best baked goods franchises of 2020:
1. Auntie Anne’s
Auntie Anne’s is always testing out new creations to tempt customers. Its latest items are pretzel slider melts – small sandwiches on soft pretzel buns, including the Chicken Bacon Ranch (grilled chicken breast, bacon, provolone cheese, ranch dressing) and the Chicken BBQ (grilled chicken breast, cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce).
There are eight signature pretzels, seven dips, pretzel nuggets, and four different pretzel hot dogs. There are six different build-out options for franchisees to choose from including in-line, kiosk, satellite, co-brand kiosk, food truck, and co-brand store. The chain is now owned by FOCUS Brands.
Founded by Anne Beiler in Downingtown, Pennsylvania in 1988 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations more than doubled from 955 in 2008 to 1,947 in 2018, but just dropped by 44 to the current total of 1,903, of which 11 are company-owned and 694 are located outside the US.
Cinnabon recently launched a new product for consumers to take home: The Cinnabon Rolled Pancake Kit, which includes a mix to make a half-dozen large rolled pancakes with Makara cinnamon (sourced from cassia trees in Indonesia), frosting mix, hot cocoa mix, and two large white mugs with a cable sweater design. The kits are being sold through Walmart both online and in stores.
The menu features its Classic Cinnamon Roll with cream cheese frosting and the Caramel PecanBon, both of which are available in the smaller BonBite size or in “center of the roll” bowls. There are also CinnaSweeties (donut holes) and Cinnabon Stix (twisted fresh-baked Danish dough).
Like Auntie Anne’s, the Cinnabon chain is owned by FOCUS Brands. There are four build-out options for franchisees, including full bakery, co-brand store, kiosk bakery, and co-brand kiosk bakery.
Founded by Rich Komen and Ray Lindstrom in Federal Way, Washington in 1985 and franchising since 1986, the number of locations has shot up in recent years from 743 in 2008 to the current total of 1,540 (an increase of 27 from the previous year’s total of 1,513), only one of which is company-owned and 616 of which are located outside the US.
3. Krispy Kreme
Krispy Kreme has upwards of 50 different signature doughnuts and doughnut holes on its menu, but it is best known for its basic but classic glazed doughnuts.
The company made headlines recently when it tried to stop an enterprising college student who was driving hundreds of miles every weekend to stock up on boxes of the chain’s doughnuts to re-sell. The story went viral and Krispy Kreme quickly changed its mind and made him an independent operator. And a local freight company gifted him with a van so he can load up with even more doughnuts.
The chain is now owned by JAB Holding Company (a private German conglomerate). Founded by Vernon Rudolph in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1937 and franchising since 1947, the number of locations expanded rapidly from 721 in 2012 to the current total of “nearly 1,400” in 33 countries as mentioned in recent press releases.
4. Einstein Bros. Bagels
Einstein Bros. Bagels bakes fresh bagels every four hours, including seven gourmet bagels, six signature bagels, 11 classic bagels, and potato rolls. Customers can choose from among nine different double-whipped Shmear (cream cheese) options. The menu also features 15 breakfast sandwiches and nine lunch sandwiches served on its bagels and potato rolls, as well as cookies, muffins, and other assorted pastries.
The company is currently testing a potential new menu item called a Bagelrito – which is basically a full-on breakfast burrito (in a flour tortilla) stuffed inside Asiago bagel dough and baked.
In 2014, the company was acquired by German conglomerate JAB Holding Company and BDT Capital Partners. Founded in Golden, Colorado in 1995 and franchising since 2006, location data is hard to find, but was most recently described as around 700.
5. Great American Cookies
Great American Cookies bakes fresh cookies using an old family recipe handed down for generations, and while its cookies and brownies are popular, the chain has made a bigger name for itself with its cookie cakes, each of which is baked fresh on the day it’s needed and hand decorated with what the customer wants or one of the company’s 224 different designs.
The menu includes 14 signature cookies, four Double Doozies (two cookies with icing in-between), and three signature brownies. The company is flexible in fitting buildouts to fit non-traditional locations (shopping malls, college campuses, airports, military bases, stadiums/arenas, movie theaters, travel centers and convenience stores, amusement parks, and so on).
In 2010, the company was acquired by Global Franchise Group. Founded by Michael Coles and Arthur Karp in Atlanta, Georgia in 1977 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations has been growing in recent years from 286 in 2008 to the current total of 383, none of which are company-owned and 17 of which are located outside the US.
6. Wetzel’s Pretzels
Wetzel’s Pretzels recently promoted the company’s chief marketing officer, Jennifer Schuler, into the CEO position, and she is all about coming up with crazy new pretzel topping combinations worthy of social media sharing. New ideas are assembled in the company’s testing lab, the Twisted Kitchen, which has already resulted in an increase in the company’s Instagram followers by more than 100% (from 8,000 to 18,000). Unfortunately, most of the creative ideas are too complicated to work at scale.
Founded by Rick Wetzel and Bill Phelps in Redondo Beach, California in 1994 and franchising since 1996, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 243 in 2008 to the current total of 345, of which 26 are company-owned and 18 are located outside the US. Among its high-profile locations are Disneyland, Disney World, and Universal Studios Hollywood.
7. Nothing Bundt Cakes
Nothing Bundt Cakes locations feel so much like “mom and pop” shops that most people are surprised to find out it’s a franchise – and that’s the point. This is an upscale offering sold at affordable prices great for all kinds of events and celebrations.
The cakes come in a variety of sizes, including 10-inch, 8-inch, Bundtlets (mini-cakes), and Bundtinis (bite-sized). They can also be stacked and tiered in visually impressive displays. All cakes feature the company’s signature thick cream cheese frosting petals or a drizzle frosting if desired. There are nine different flavors of cake available.
Founded by Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz in 1997 and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has grown steadily from 15 in 2009 to the current total of 307, of which six are company-owned and one is located outside the US.
8. Shipley Do-Nuts
Shipley Do-Nuts is a fresh-baked, served-warm donut chain that also offers the hearty Czechoslovakian filled pastries called kolaches. There are currently 45 different donuts on the menu and four different kolaches.
When the founder first created his donut recipe more than 80 years ago, the donuts were cut by hand and sold for five cents/dozen. All the company’s products are based on its proprietary dough mix that only needs yeast and water at each location to bake the menu items.
Founded by Lawrence Shipley in Houston, Texas in 1936 and franchising since 1987, the number of locations has hovered right around the 300-mark in recent years, with a current total of 302, of which 12 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Pretzelmaker makes its soft pretzels from scratch, rolls them every day in its stores, then bakes them up and serves them warm from the oven. The menu includes nine signature pretzel flavors, a pepperoni pretzel roll, eight different Pretzel Bites, three different pretzel hot dogs, eight dipping sauces, nine different blended frozen drinks, and eight different lemonades.
The company offers four different models to franchisees: traditional (malls and shopping centers), licensed locations (flexibility to fit all kinds of locations), non-traditional (kiosks in all sorts of high-traffic areas), and “Fresh Twist” with its expanded menu that includes breakfast and late-night menu options to be more competitive in non-traditional locations.
Founded by Jeffrey Tripp in 1991 and franchising since 1992, in 2010 the company merged with Pretzel Time. In spite of that, the number of locations has been declining from a high of 363 in 2009 to the current total of 255, none of which are company-owned and 69 of which are located outside the US.
10. Bruegger’s Bagels
Bruegger’s Bagels still holds the Guinness world record for making the largest bagel, weighing 868 pounds, which the company created at the New York State Fair in 2004 using 1,100 pounds of dough, 900 gallons of water, and 10 hours of baking time. It still goes the extra mile in making its bagels, first cooking them in kettles, then finishing them off with some quality bake-time in a stone hearth oven.
The menu includes 21 signature bagels and 14 different Vermont cream cheese options. Also available are breakfast sandwiches, lunch sandwiches, several soups, and a few desserts.
Founded by Nordahl Brue and Mike Dressell in Troy, New York in 1983 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has declined in recent years, from 280 in 2008 to the current total of 218 listed on the company website.
11. Great Harvest
Great Harvest doesn’t just make its bread fresh every day, it makes the flour itself fresh every day. It really can’t get any fresher than that. The chain sources its wheat kernels from family farms, then mills them on-site for the freshest possible flour.
In addition to seven different signature breads, the chain’s stores also offer several breakfast options (biscuits, sandwiches, muffins, scones, and cinnamon rolls), a café menu with five sandwiches and two salads, and a variety of baked goodies such as cookies, bars, brownies, and teacakes.
Founded by Pete and Laura Wakeman in Great Falls, Montana in 1976 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations has declined recently from a high of 212 in 2011 to the current total of 182, one of which is company-owned and one of which is located outside the US.
12. Philly Pretzel Factory
Philly Pretzel Factory has its own unique take on fresh-made hand-twisted pretzels resulting in a shape different from the usual soft pretzel – it looks like a tall number 8. As the name implies, this chain was born and “bread” in the City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia. It should come as no surprise that one of the items on its menu is a cheesesteak pretzel.
Its bite-sized pretzels are called Rivets, and there are also pretzel dogs, a pepperoni pretzel melt, and sweet cinnamon pretzel twists. The menu is rounded out with eight different party trays with various combinations of its products.
Founded by Dan DiZio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1998 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations has more than doubled over the past 10 years from 103 in 2008 to the current total of 162 (a loss of 12 units from the previous year’s total of 174), seven of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
13. Nestlé Toll House Cafe by Chip
The array of menu offerings at a café location includes fresh-baked cookies, cupcakes, macaroons, brownies, bars, chocolate-covered strawberries, ice cream, cookie cakes, crepes, wraps, paninis, flatbreads, frozen yogurt, and real fruit smoothies.
The number of locations now stands at 137 (a loss of 18 units from the previous known total of 155), only one of which is company-owned and 40 of which are located outside the US.
14. Gigi’s Cupcakes
Gigi’s Cupcakes has been through a lot. The initial cupcake craze has begun to fade, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, and it was purchased by Los Angeles-based Elite Restaurant Group. But the new parent company is committed to not only keeping all existing franchises open, but growing the brand.
Cupcakes remain a popular choice among consumers because they’re so much easier to handle than full-sized cakes. The chains cupcakes are colorful, have lots of icing, and incorporate plenty of additional treats in the form of sprinkles and candies. They make a great addition to all kinds of events, including birthday parties, corporate events, baby showers, weddings, and holiday gatherings.
In addition to 12 signature cupcakes (including a couple gluten-free options), there are two cheesecake cup options and full 8-inch cakes.
Founded by Gina “Gigi” Butler in Nashville, Tennessee in 2007 and franchising since 2008, the number of locations has declined from 95 last year to the current total of 86, of which nine are company-owned and all are located in the US.
15. Duck Donuts
Duck Donuts sells warm, fresh, made-to-order donuts. It always features at least a dozen signature donuts, with seasonal varieties mixed in. Customers who want their donuts made-to-order begin with the basic vanilla cake donut, then choose a coating (Bare, Cinnamon Sugar, Powdered Sugar, Glazed, Icing: Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, Peanut Butter, Maple, Lemon, Blueberry), a topping (Rainbow Sprinkles, Chocolate Sprinkles, Graham Cracker, Chopped Peanuts, Chopped Bacon, Shredded Coconut, Oreos), and a drizzle (Hot Fudge, Marshmallow, Salted Caramel, Raspberry).
Founded by Russ DiGilio and Robin Griffith in Duck, North Carolina in 2006 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations has quickly grown to 83, only one of which is company-owned, and one of which is located outside the US.
16. Ben’s Soft Pretzels
Ben’s Soft Pretzels doesn’t mess around with its signature product – the pretzels are Amish-inspired and they’re big. But don’t worry, they have the bite-sized option, called Buggy Bites. The jumbo pretzels can be salted with imported German salt or with a range of Bake ‘N Shake toppings, and customers have a choice of a dozen different dipping sauces.
There are also Pretzel Pockets similar to a calzone but with pretzel dough, pretzel-wrapped hot dogs, and the newest product: Prizza – pretzel dough pizzas. The chain’s locations can be placed in shopping malls, stadiums, airports, and in select Walmart and Meijer stores as well.
Founded by Ben Miller, Scott Jones, and Brian Krider in Elkhard, Indiana in 2008 and franchising since 2013, the chain grew rapidly over the last several years to 85 locations in 2018, but has ticked down by 3 to 82, of which 17 are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
17. Big Apple Bagels/My Favorite Muffin
Big Apple Bagels/My Favorite Muffin combines not just those two brands, but also a third, which is Brewster’s Coffee. The fresh-baked bagels span the typical array of flavors, along with six different cream cheeses. There are nine different breakfast sandwiches and a dozen different deli sandwiches on the menu, and an array of cake-like muffins (jumbo or mini).
Founded by Paul Stolzer in 1993 and franchising since then, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 119 in 2008 to the current total of 80, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
18. Kolache Factory
Kolache Factory specializes in offering the Czechoslovakian filled pastry that has become increasingly popular throughout the US, in part because they offer a great way to grab breakfast on the go. The pastry itself is somewhat sweet and is then filled with anything and everything (meats, cheeses, fruits, etc.).
There are 21 different signature kolaches on the menu, along with other baked goods such as strudel niks, croissants, cinnamon rolls, muffins, cinnamon twists, and dinner rolls.
Founded by John and Jerri Banks in Houston, Texas in 1981 and franchising since 2000, there are currently 58 locations, of which 26 are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
19. Le Macaron French Pastries
Le Macaron French Pastries needs people to get one thing straight from the get-go: a macaron and a macaroon are not the same thing, although some insist that they are! A macaroon is the well-known coconut cookie. A macaron is a French pastry – a meringue-based, melt-in-your-mouth confection that comes out like a very light cookie, usually put together in pairs with a filling in-between.
The chain’s menu includes 21 different signature macarons and a selection of other French pastries, including savories, eclairs, madeleines, and pains au chocolats. Also available are full-sized cakes, French gelato, waffles, candies, and fine chocolates.
Founded by Rosalie Guillem and Audrey Guillem-Saba in 2009 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has increased rapidly since then to the current total of 53, of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Woops! is a bakeshop concept specializing in French macarons and other artisanal pastries. It offers 18 signature flavors of macarons, as well as changing seasonal flavors. Customers can select various combinations of flavors and quantities to be boxed up, and they can be used for corporate gifting, party favors, weddings, and all sorts of other events. Other sweet treats available include cookies, waffles, and alfajores.
Founded by four friends in New York City in 2012 and franchising since 2015, the number of locations now stands at 40, of which seven are company-owned and all are located in the US.
Cinnaholic lets customers tailor the hot, fresh cinnamon roll by choosing from among 30 different frostings and 30 other kinds of toppings. Unlike many baked treats, this chain’s cinnamon rolls are 100% dairy-free, egg-free, cholesterol-free, and 100% vegan. It received a healthy dose of publicity from an appearance on Shark Tank back in 2014.
Founded by husband-and-wife team Shannon and Florian Radke in Berkeley, California in 2010 and franchising since 2014, the number of locations currently stands at 38, only one of which is company-owned and seven of which are located outside the US.
Breadsmith knows how hard it is to find good bread in the US, especially if people are limited to what’s available at their local supermarkets. This chain offers breads made the old-world way, by hand, from scratch, and without preservatives or additives. Each location features a European hearth stone oven weighing upwards of five tons.
Other baked goods available include sweet breads, coffee cakes, cookies, pastries, scones, biscotti, croissants, granola, crostatas, tarts, and much more. The company has more than 300 different recipes and gives franchisees the flexibility to pick and choose what it will offer. They can also choose to get into wholesaling to other markets in their local area.
Founded by Dan Sterling in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993 and franchising since 1994, there are currently 34 locations (one more than last year), two of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
23. Peace, Love & Little Donuts
Peace, Love & Little Donuts goes all in on its branding to peace-loving hippies for its little donuts, the size of which is attributed to putting the first donut machine together incorrectly, resulting in their small size. The chain makes little fresh cake donuts and then jazzes them up with various frostings and “funkadelic” toppings for a grand total of 60 different signature donut creations.
Founded by Ron and Marci Razete in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2009 and franchising since 2016, the number of locations has quickly grown to 28, of which four are company-owned and all are located in the US.
24. The Dapper Doughnut
The Dapper Doughnut makes hot, fresh, made-to-order mini-doughnuts with style. It has 15 different signature doughnuts: Apple Cider Sugar, Bananas Foster, Birthday Cake, Blueberry Lemon, Chocolate Sprinkles, Cinnamon Bun, Cinnamon Sugar, Fluffer Nutter, Loco Coco, Nutella Dream, PB & J, Powdered Sugar, S’mores, Strawberry Bella, and Turtle. The chain also serves up artisan coffee.
Founded by Mark Publicover in 2015 and franchising since 2016, the number of locations currently stands at 19, only one of which is company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
25. Between Rounds Bakery Sandwich Café
Between Rounds Bakery Sandwich Café is primarily a fresh-baked bagel shop, but it also serves other breads and baked goods along with sandwiches, wraps, salads, and soups. In addition to in-store sales, the chain relies heavily on catering as a second stream of revenue.
While the goods are baked in-store, the doughs are prepared off-site and delivered for baking. Each location also has the flexibility to tailor its look and décor to the local community.
Founded by Jerry Puiia in Vernon, Connecticut in 1990 and franchising since 1992, there are currently five locations (one more than last year), three of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. 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.