The return of Dunkin' Donuts to Minnesota is gaining momentum and, for the moment, the Twin Cities is the hole in the middle.
Just weeks after announcing a franchisee in Rochester, the nation's largest doughnut-and-coffee chain said Monday it has found one who plans to build outlets across northern Minnesota, from Brainerd to the Iron Range to the Duluth area.
Brian and Sharon Weidendorf of Hinckley, Minn., are financing seven Dunkin' Donuts, with the first opening in mid-2015 near Miller Hill Mall in Duluth.
"We actually are a consumer of theirs," said Brian Weidendorf, explaining what prompted the investment. "We were looking at an opportunity with a growing company."
Weidendorf, owner and developer of Land and Lease Development in Hinckley, said he has been a fast-food developer previously with "some of the majors" that he declined to name.
He said he's not concerned about affiliating with the brand at a time when popular diets discourage carbs and sugar. "Dunkin' has a good name," he said. "I'm not really worried about that."
The 7,000-unit chain has been steadily expanding its sandwich and wrap offerings in an effort to counter competitors such as Starbucks and Caribou.
Weidendorf said the Duluth locale will be in a remodeled site, while the others will be built "from the ground up" in Brainerd, Hibbing, on Tower Avenue in Superior, Wis., and other spots he did not specify.
Based in the Boston area, Dunkin' Donuts said it is still pursuing franchises in the Twin Cities and Mankato. Its executives are hosting a seminar for interested investors Thursday night in Edina, corporate hometown of rival Dairy Queen. For details, visit http://franchisingevents.dunkinbrands.com.
The company revealed about a month ago that it was ending its decadelong Minnesota hiatus by lining up a franchisee in Rochester.
The franchisee, Rochester Retail Services, plans to open an outlet in a downtown hotel and five free-standing locations in the Rochester area over the next several years.
The push into Minnesota is part of a national expansion that saw the chain make inroads last year in Salt Lake City, Dallas, Houston and other markets far from its base in the Northeast.
Until the recent deals, a franchisee in Austin had been the last to run a Dunkin' Donuts outlet in Minnesota. That locale in 2005 became the Donut Connection.
In 2008, Dunkin' Donuts announced plans to sell about 100 franchises in Minnesota. That effort never materialized because the company lacked the proper supply chain, training and other operations for the region.