Emerging Franchise D’lite Puts Healthy Spin on Fast Food | Franchise News


The d’Veggie bowl is one of the signature menu items at D’lite Healthy on the Go.

Fresh out of college and constantly on the move, D’lite Healthy on the Go founders Brooke and Chad Knudson were visiting drive-thrus a lot. “Why doesn’t anyone do healthy fast food? It needs to be a thing,” Chad Knudson said. “We said that for a couple years. Finally, we’re like OK, well we need to stop saying why is no one doing this, and we should just do it.”

The pair started D’lite, a good-for-you fast food franchise, in Phoenix in 2007. The brand has six units with a few more in the works.

D’lite serves breakfast all day along with salads, wraps, sandwiches, bowls and burgers. Among the popular menu items are the d’Breakfast Buzz shake, with espresso, banana and peanut butter (the shake is “just about world famous,” Chad Knudson said), as well as the California Club breakfast sandwich.


Josh Engstrom owns two locations in Phoenix with two more on the way.

The meaning of “health” varies from person to person, so D’lite has a health matrix online that shows customers which menu items meet a variety of dietary standards, including vegan, vegetarian, low carb and protein-packed. “Depending on what an individual’s health goals are, there’s really something for everyone and can be modified to fit each need,” Brooke Knudson said.

The term “healthy” can scare off some people, especially if they’re used to visiting less-than-nutritious restaurants like McDonald’s or Burger King, Brooke Knudson said. The franchise doesn’t narrowly focus on a single category—like salads or bowls—and instead has plenty of options. “It really is tasty first, and happens to be good for you,” she said.

The good-for-you restaurant space is expanding, with brands such as Nekter Juice Bar hitting $98 million in sales in 2021 from 158 units. WOWorks, meanwhile, is amassing health-focused brands under its umbrella, including Saladworks, Frutta Bowls and Zoup Eatery. Minnesota-based Steele Brands has a handful of similarly positioned concepts: Crisp & Green, Stalk & Spade and Paco & Lime.

Initially, the Knudsons tapped into fans of their restaurant as franchisees. D’lite last year launched a broader franchise development strategy. “We’re very confident with our brand and our infrastructure in place, and our ability to open restaurants and assist the franchisee to ensure that they’re successful and profitable,” Chad Knudson said. “So, now we’re feeling confident and going to market to actually bring the franchise out into the public for availability.”

Franchisee Josh Engstrom, a former Marine, got involved because of his passion for health and his interest in restaurants. “I was really big on health and fast,” Engstrom said. “I feel like everything’s moving into a faster world and people are getting healthier and that’s my passion.”


Brooke and Chad Knudson

Following his time in the Marine Corps, he was selling cell phones while attending college. He worked his way up to a national sales director role at T-Mobile and eventually owned 40 stores before he sold his part of the business. He spoke with a few different franchise concepts, but wasn’t impressed with any until he saw D’lite, a restaurant he visited often, was beginning to franchise.

He opened his first store in June 2020. He said the unfortunate, mid-pandemic timing was a blessing in disguise. Fast and health conscious “were the two things that people were gravitating toward during COVID, more than really at any other time,” he said.

Engstrom has two stores open and two more on the way, all in the Phoenix area. The cost to open a D’lite franchise ranges from $419,000 to $688,000. The three open franchise locations had gross sales between $1.3- and $1.6 million in 2021.

Since its inception, D’lite has gained what the founders call a cult following among Arizonans. Most customers have discovered the brand through word of mouth, Chad Knudson said, which quickly created a buzz. He recalled customers’ overwhelming response. “On Google Maps, there were red dots in front of our restaurant, because people are in the street and the traffic builds up in front of our restaurant,” he said.

The Knudsons have plans to grow slowly to ensure they have the capacity to support their franchisees without spreading themselves too thin, he noted. The pair expects to open at most four to six stores a year.

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