For years the Miami-based Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen lagged as a brand. Its menu was perceived to be ho hum and its restaurants dreary. Then the company made a mighty push to revitalize, to great success. It changed its menu to emphasize its New Orleans roots and began focusing on expanding its footprint. By the time the multinational fast food conglomerate Restaurant Brands picked up Popeyes for $1.8 billion in 2018, the chain’s course was set. It was steadily opening new locations both in the US and globally—a trajectory that continues to this day. The number of Popeyes restaurants worldwide grew 7.6% over the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2018.

At least some of those restaurants were self-developed, says Brenna Wadleigh, CEO of N3 Real Estate, a net lease developer based in Southlake, TX. It is not the only retail chain to be building out its own assets either, according to Wadleigh. She also counts Panda Express, Chick-Fil-A, Quicktrip and Bridgestone, as well as a number of franchises in this group.

The driver behind this trend is telling for the net lease space. Because the market is typically a reliable sector with strong returns, in recent years restaurants and retailers have come to realize the gains they can reap from developing their own outlets, she says. Some hold the assets on their balance sheets, but many others are structuring deals as sale leasebacks. “They build it and three months later put it on the market just like a developer would, and then keep the gain,” Wadleigh says.

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