The American consumer has a sweet tooth, which means entrepreneurs who want to buy into one
of the best baked goods franchises have lots of choices to evaluate. But not every franchise on this list is entirely focused on dessert-type baked goods. The category includes breads, muffins, biscuits, and more.
One interesting trend is the number of soft pretzel chains on the list, which tend to present menus that include both sweet and savory pretzel options. But there’s still a wide variety of product types available, including breads, bagels, muffins, cookies, cupcakes, donuts, and pastries of all types. Some distinguish themselves by focusing on a particular type or style of pastry, such as kolaches, French pastries, cinnamon rolls, and so on.
One reason bakery franchises are doing well is the increasing popularity of grabbing breakfast on the go, and most bakery franchises feature items that are traditionally thought of as breakfast foods. The bakery café market in the U.S. is worth $8 billion and has outperformed the rest of the food service sector in recent years. Here are the top 23 baked goods franchises of 2018.
Cinnabon puts a lot of work into developing the various features that go into its signature cinnamon roll. It gets its Makara Cinnamon from cassia trees in Indonesia, uses a dough whose recipe took months to develop, and tops the rolls off with a cream cheese frosting. In addition to several styles of cinnamon rolls, the bakery menu also includes CinnaSweeties (like donut holes) and Cinnabon Stix, along with a variety of coffee beverages. Popular locations include malls, travel venues, military bases, co-branded locations, and elsewhere. Another option is a smaller footprint kiosk. Founded in 1985, the number of locations has nearly doubled over the past 10 years from 920 in 2007 to the current total of 1,828, of which 14 are company-owned and 599 are located outside the U.S.
2. Auntie Anne’s
Auntie Anne’s makes eight signature fresh soft pretzels with eight dipping sauces, Pretzel Nuggets, pretzel dogs, and lemonade. The company also sells frozen pretzels that can be baked at home, as well as pretzel mix that can be used at home to get a fuller experience of making pretzels. Franchisees can choose from several store options, including in-line (malls, etc.), kiosks, satellites (without on-site baking), and a food truck option. Founded in 1988 and franchising since 1989, the number of locations has more than doubled over the past 10 years from 696 in 2007 to the current total of 1,464, of which 2 are company-owned and 630 are located outside the U.S.
3. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts has long been a popular brand of donuts in the southeast. It has now spread throughout the U.S. and around the world. Known best for its signature glazed doughnut, it now has more than 3-dozen doughnut creations. Although there is plenty of room to expand its presence in the U.S., the company is heavily pushing international expansion. Founded in 1937, the number of locations has expanded rapidly in the last five years to 1,172 locations, with most of the growth fueled by establishing 869 locations outside the U.S. Of the total locations, 190 are U.S. franchises and 113 are company-owned.
4. Einstein Bros. Bagels
Einstein Bros. Bagels is one of the largest bagel chains in the country. Workers arrive at 2 a.m. in each location and bake fresh bagels every four hours. The menu presents 26 different kinds of bagels and 11 varieties of cream cheese, which it calls “shmear.” Also on the menu are 13 different breakfast sandwiches, 15 lunch sandwiches, 13 different desserts, and Darn Good Coffee. The chain is part of the Einstein Noah Restaurant Group, which includes other bagel brands such as Noah’s New York Bagels and Manhattan Bagel. In 2014, the company was acquired by JAB Holding Company and BDT Capital Partners. Founded in 1995 and franchising since 2006, there are now more than 1,000 locations, nearly half of which are company-owned.
5. Great American Cookies
Great American Cookies features a dozen different signature cookies, Double Doozies (icing between two cookies), 200 different hand-decorated cookie cakes for all occasions, and a trio of signature brownies. Everything is fresh-baked daily based on a generations-old family recipe. Most stores are located within shopping malls, but any high-traffic venue could become a non-traditional location. Founded in 1977 and franchising since 1978, the number of locations has grown slightly in recent years to the current total of 366, of which 16 are located outside the U.S.
6. Wetzel’s Pretzels
Wetzel’s Pretzels serves up fresh-made signature pretzels, cheese pretzels, Wetzel dogs, and Wetzel Bitz with five dipping sauces. Location options for franchisees include stadiums, airports, and tourist locations, but stores are primarily located in malls. Founded in 1994 and franchising since 1996, the number of locations has grown over the past 10 years from 239 in 2007 to the current total of 328, of which 18 are company-owned and 9 are located outside the U.S. Among its high-profile locations are Disneyland, Disney World, and Universal Studios Hollywood.
7. Shipley Do-Nuts
Shipley Do-Nuts is one of the few chains around that serves up fresh-baked donuts hot from the oven. In addition to its more than 60 varieties of donuts, it also offers kolaches (a Czechoslovakian filled pastry) stuffed with cheeses and/or meats. Franchisees receive a proprietary donut mix that requires only yeast and water to mix up into batter that is used for the donuts, kolaches, and other pastries such as cinnamon rolls, fritters, cakes, and a cream cheese roll. Founded in 1936, there are currently 287 locations, which represents a slight decline from its recent high of 310 in 2016.
Pretzelmaker features fresh-baked soft pretzels, pretzel bites, pretzel dogs, eight different dipping sauces, frozen drinks, and six different lemonades. The pretzels are made from scratch and rolled daily in-store. Stores are designed to fit into smaller spaces, with an in-line option good for malls or shopping centers, a non-traditional option for other high-traffic venues, and a “Fresh Twist” option with expanded breakfast and late-night offerings such as pretzel flatbread pizzas and pepperoni pretzel rolls. Founded in 1991, the company merged with Pretzel Time in 2010. In spite of that, the number of locations has been declining from a high of 363 in 2009 to the current total of 277, of which 65 are located outside the U.S.
9. Bruegger’s Bagels
Bruegger’s Bagels founders Nord Brue and Mike Dressell spent two years working with a professional baker in New York City to perfect their bagel recipe and method, which includes first kettle-cooking the bagels and then baking them in a stone hearth oven. Complementing their 19 different bagels are a dozen unique blends of made-in-Vermont cream cheese. The overall menu is rounded out with 12 breakfast sandwiches, 12 lunch sandwiches, three fresh-made salads, seven signature soups, 14 desserts, and seven varieties of custom-roasted coffee. Founded in 1983 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has declined slightly during the past 10 years, from 280 in 2008 to the current total of 260.
10. Nothing Bundt Cakes
Nothing Bundt Cakes started out as a couple of friends baking Bundt cakes for friends and family with only the freshest ingredients, but it quickly caught on as a viable business concept worthy of franchising. The key here is that the chain is filling a unique niche and offering a luxury product at affordable prices. Many are surprised this is a franchise because of the “mom and pop” feel with personalized service established at each location. On the menu are 8-inch Bundt cakes, 10-inch Bundt cakes, tiered Bundt cakes, miniature “Bundtlets,” Bundtlet towers, and bite-sized “Bundtins” in nine signature flavors, along with the occasional new flavor. Founded in 1997 by Dena Tripp and Debbie Shwetz and franchising since 2006, the number of locations has grown steadily from 15 in 2009 to the current total of nearly 250, of which two are company-owned.
11. Philly Pretzel Factory
Philly Pretzel Factory bakes Philly-style fresh-made and hand-twisted soft pretzels, which means they’re shaped like a tall number 8 rather than the traditional soft pretzel shape, then baked in sheets and must then be pulled apart from each other. The menu includes a number of other options, including pretzel dogs, pretzel cheesesteaks, pretzel sausages, pepperoni pretzel melts, cinnamon pretzel twists, and Rivets (pretzel bites). Founded in 1998 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations has more than doubled over the past 10 years from 72 in 2007 to the current total of 183, of which 10 are company-owned.
12. Great Harvest
Great Harvest presents itself as a franchise opportunity that can thrive in smaller towns that wouldn’t be considered worthy for a larger chain like Panera. Each location also has the option to largely create its own menu. The primary focus is serving up homemade whole grain breads with wheat kernels from family farms that are milled on-site to make fresh flour daily. The result is bread fresher than most options. The café menu features sandwiches using the fresh-made breads. Founded in the late 1970s and franchising since 1983, the number of locations has declined recently from a high of 212 in 2009 to the current total of 182, two of which are company-owned.
13. Nestlé Toll House Cafe by Chip
Nestlé Toll House Cafe by Chip was born in 2000, although the Nestlé company itself, one of the largest food companies in the world, dates back to 1905 and has the distinct advantage of brand-name recognition. Café menu offerings include fresh-baked cookies, ice cream, cookie cakes, crepes, wraps, paninis, flatbreads, frozen yogurt, and real fruit smoothies. There are currently 155 locations, and all the growth in that figure over the last several years has been from establishing 52 locations outside the U.S.
14. Gigi’s Cupcakes
Gigi’s Cupcakes builds on the growing cupcake craze with a huge variety of cupcakes topped with its signature swirl of frosting and other toppings. In addition to cupcakes, the menu includes cheesecake and gluten-friendly options. Gourmet cupcakes have been a rapidly growing segment in the baked goods industry because demand is strong. Cupcakes are much more flexible and easier to handle and serve or take on-the-go than full cakes. Founded in 2008, the chain received a big boost when it was featured on the television program Undercover Boss in 2015. There are currently 100 locations, 14 of which are company-owned.
15. Ben’s Soft Pretzels
Ben’s Soft Pretzels makes Amish-inspired large pretzels, fresh-made from scratch and rolled by hand in-store with salt imported from Germany along with 11 gourmet dipping sauces. Further customization is possible with its Bake N’ Shake toppings. The menu also features Buggy Bites, Pretzel Stix, Pretzel Pockets, and several other signature pretzel creations. In addition to traditional locations, sites can be located within Walmart and Meijer stores as well as sports stadium venues. Founded in 2004, the chain has grown rapidly over the last several years to 84 locations, of which 14 are company-owned.
16. Big Apple Bagels/My Favorite Muffin
Big Apple Bagels/My Favorite Muffin has a primary focus on fresh-baked bagels, cake-like muffins, and gourmet coffee. All items are made fresh daily on-site with a menu that also includes breakfast sandwiches and deli sandwiches. The company is a collection of three branded product lines – Big Apple Bagels, My Favorite Muffin, and Brewster’s Coffee. Franchisees have the option of opening either a Big Apple Bagels (that also carries the muffins) or a standalone My Favorite Muffin, and both feature Brewster’s Coffee. A third option is SweetDuet that offers the My Favorite Muffins combined with frozen yogurt and Brewster’s Coffee. Founded in 1993, the number of locations has declined over the last 10 years from 129 in 2007 to the current total of 84, all franchised in the U.S.
17. Kolache Factory
Kolache Factory occupies a unique niche in the bakery segment with its focus on a wide array of kolaches. A kolache is a slightly sweet fresh-baked pastry traditionally filled with sausage, cheese, or fruit that originated in Czechoslovakia centuries ago but has gained in popularity throughout the U.S. The highly portable snack is affordably priced and franchisees have options that include drive-thru service as well as shipping online orders of kolaches. The menu is rounded out with gourmet coffees and a variety of traditional pastries such as cinnamon rolls, croissants, strudel niks, and more. Founded in 1992, there are currently 54 locations, of which 25 are company-owned.
18. Le Macaron French Pastries
Le Macaron French Pastries distinguishes itself in the bakery segment by offering authentic French pastries and is named after the country’s best-known signature pastry, the macaron (which is not the same thing as the popular coconut cookies called macaroons). The menu also includes gourmet chocolates, French gelato, classic French pastries, European style beverages, and homemade candies, with some locations also offering wine and sparkling wine. Baking does not take place on-site. Founded in 2009 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has increased rapidly since then to the current total of 49, of which 5 are company-owned.
19. We’re Rolling Pretzel Company
We’re Rolling Pretzel Company serves up hand-rolled pretzels using the company’s secret recipe for pretzel dough. In addition to traditional pretzels and pretzel sticks with nine different dipping sauce choices, the company also offers pretzel bites, pretzel dogs, and stuffed pretzels. Like many pretzel chains, units tend to be located in shopping malls, universities, transportation stations, amusement parks, and select big box retail locations. Founded in 1996 and franchising since 2000, the number of locations has declined in recent years from 54 in 2007 to the current total of 32, of which 15 are company-owned.
Breadsmith presents a unique twist in the bakery segment with handcrafted, European-style artisan breads made by following the tradition of old world master bakers. Everything is made fresh from scratch without additives or preservatives and baked in a five-ton, European hearth stone oven. The menu also features a wide variety of other baked goods such as pastries, cookies, scones, sweet breads, coffee cakes, and more. Franchisees can fashion their own menus from the company’s more than 300 different recipes and enjoy revenue from both retailing and wholesaling opportunities. Founded in 1993 and franchising since 1994, there are currently 31 locations, of which two are company-owned.
Cinnaholic is a bakery concept largely focused on gourmet cinnamon rolls. Starting with a fresh cinnamon roll straight from the oven, customers can then choose from over 30 different frosting flavors, and 30 different toppings to customize their treat. The cinnamon rolls are also 100% dairy-free, egg-free, cholesterol-free, and vegan-friendly. The chain’s appearance on the television program Shark Tank gave it a big boost, although the company declined the $200,000 investment offer from one of the sharks. The number of locations currently stands at 14, most of which have been opened in the past few years.
22. Rise Biscuits and Donuts
Rise Biscuits and Donuts is a relatively new company open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, which means the focus here is on breakfast with its biscuits and donuts, while the lunch menu includes a variety of sandwiches on potato rolls, although the breakfast menu is available all day. Its signature buttermilk biscuits are the vehicle for a variety of breakfast sandwiches such as buttermilk-brined fried chicken, crispy bacon, salt-cured ham, and country sausage topped with egg, cheese, and spreads. Everything is baked fresh daily. Founded in 2012, there are currently 11 locations, of which two are company-owned.
23. Between Rounds Bakery Sandwich Café
Between Rounds Bakery Sandwich Café is a bagel shop with two main streams of revenue that include the café operation supplemented with a focus on catering. If a location has adequate space, baking can be observed by customers. Besides fresh-baked bagels, the menu includes breads, other baked goods, sandwiches, wraps, salads, and soups. The doughs are prepared off-site and delivered to each store location for baking. Although a chain, stores are fashioned to have a local/independent feel to them. Founded in 1990 and franchising since 1992, there are currently five locations, three of which are company-owned.
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.