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PHOENIX-The Laguna Hills, CA-based operator of the quick service Melt Gelato & Crepe Cafe, Melt Inc., has opened its first franchised store outside of California. The new store is the first in what will be a major expansion program into other key markets across the US, the company says.

The newest Melt store is in the Paradise Valley Mall, one of the largest retail shopping center complexes in the Phoenix area. The company says that it has targeted the Phoenix area because it represents the fifth largest city in the US with a population of more than 1.4 million.

Besides Phoenix, Melt plans to open in San Francisco, Las Vegas, St. Louis, Toledo, Philadelphia, Connecticut, New Jersey, Florida and other markets this year. One reason for the expansion is the low fat content of the gelato that the company’s stores sell, according to Clive Barwin, president and CEO of the company, who says the low-fat concept appeals to a growing number of consumers.

Barwin says that the gelato industry in the US “is in its infancy.” Since being founded in 2003, the company has grown from one store to 30 that are either open or under construction.

Melt’s expansion program is initially focused on California, Arizona, Nevada, Florida, Missouri, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut, Illinois and the State of Washington. The program is estimated to drive the store count from 30 by the end of 2006 to 174 in 2008 with operations in 20 states.

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