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Wahlburgers CEO to put expansion into higher gear

The Wahlburgers chain plans to expand in its home state of Massachusetts as well as in states like California, Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio.
The Wahlburgers chain plans to expand in its home state of Massachusetts as well as in states like California, Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio.Getty Images/file 2013

Until now, the Wahlberg brothers have grown their burger shop chain at a relatively slow pace. But Wahlburgers chief executive Rick Vanzura is prepared to kick this expansion into a much higher gear.

The company announced Thursday franchise deals that will lead to nearly 40 new stores in places such as California, the Carolinas, Georgia, Michigan, and Ohio — as well as its home state, Massachusetts. Most of these agreements were signed within the past month.

When added to previously unveiled franchise deals, more than 110 stores could be on their way over the next seven years. Vanzura hopes to open 10 this year, and then five to seven per quarter starting in 2017.

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“There’s no question it’s an aggressive growth rate,” Vanzura says. “Having said that, we spent a lot of time to get ourselves in the position where we can handle this growth.”

Actors Donnie and Mark Wahlberg and chef Paul Wahlberg opened their flagship Hingham shop back in 2011. But only six others have opened since that time.

Meanwhile, the brothers’ banter provided fodder for the ongoing A&E reality show, also called “Wahlburgers.” The fifth season starts March 9.

Vanzura says he’s been preparing for the expansion by building a support team, checking on proposed sites, and vetting potential franchisees.

In Massachusetts, the three Wahlberg brothers will continue to invest in and develop their own Wahlburgers shops together with other investors, as they did for their Fenway and Lynnfield locations. They plan to open five to 10 more in the state over time, including one in Dorchester, the brothers’ hometown neighborhood.

Vanzura says he’s been trying to find a Dorchester spot pretty much since he was hired in 2012. That’s finally going to happen now, as part of an expansion of the South Bay Center. But the shop might not open until early 2018, depending on the pace of permitting.

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“The whole family will have an opportunity to go back into Dorchester in a big way,” Vanzura says.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.