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The Caribbean Grilled Chicken sandwich is one of the staples at Puerto Rican chain Meson Sandwiches.
The Caribbean Grilled Chicken sandwich is one of the staples at Puerto Rican chain Meson Sandwiches. (provided)

Puerto Rico-based El Meson Sandwiches, the island's largest local chain restaurant, is expanding to the mainland in June by way of Orlando's Florida Mall and plans to open five units in Orlando within 24 months, the company's president told GrowthSpotter.

Orlando will serve as a launching point for the chain's U.S. expansion, which president Felipe Perez hopes will compete with fast-casual chains like Corner Bakery and Panera. El Meson, which will re-brand as Meson Sandwiches in the U.S., is known for its Caribbean-inspired grilled sandwiches.

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Meson Sandwiches averages $2 million in annual revenue per store in Puerto Rico, Perez said, and expects similar numbers in Orlando. A key advantage to U.S. expansion is that much of the raw materials the chain uses now are imported to Puerto Rico from the States. Avoiding those shipping costs will help Meson lower prices in Orlando.

Perez chose Orlando as Meson's debut market because of the city's diverse population, mature service-oriented workforce and strong Puerto Rican community, along with Orlando's world-leading tourism numbers.

Meson will open at Florida Mall's new pavilion food court on June 1. Florida Mall has more foot traffic than any mall in Central Florida, but Perez was also drawn there thanks to an existing relationship with owner Simon Group, which owns multiple malls in Puerto Rico where Meson leases space.

Meson Sandwiches will lease about 800 square feet at Florida Mall and invested $500,000 in equipment and interior construction for its food court space. Southport Construction of Clearwater did the chain's interior work at Florida Mall, exceeding expectations, Perez said.

The company is already planning construction for its second unit in Kissimmee, on Osceola Parkway, which will be a stand-alone restaurant with a drive-thru. Set to open by November, the site will be a green-field build with exterior construction paid by the property owner, while Meson Sandwiches will invest $750,000 for interior build-out and design.

Five total units will be built within a 20-mile radius of downtown Orlando by Summer 2017, Perez said. The company will finance its Orlando growth with its own capital.

The company has 37 units in Puerto Rico, all owned by the parent company, and was named by Travel + Leisure as one of the top fast-food chains in the world in 2012.

bmoser@growthspotter.com or (407) 420-5685

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