This U.S. Fast-Food Chain Has the Most Locations Around the World

Hint: It's not the one you think.

Subway restaurantPekka Sakki/REX/Shutterstock

You might think with the number of golden arches you see that McDonald’s is the fast food chain with the most franchises around the world.

But it turns out that distinction belongs to another chain: Subway. According to CNBC, the sandwich franchise operated 43,912 stores around the globe in 2017. McDonald’s wasn’t far behind, however, with 37,241 franchises. In third place? Relative newcomer Starbucks, with 27,339.

That doesn’t mean, though, that business is good for Subway. Sales have been slipping at the sandwich maker since 2014, CNBC reports. Since 2016, the chain has closed more than 1,650 locations. Subway management has said they plan to consolidate in the United States while continuing to expand overseas.

It doesn’t help that industry experts say Subway has been slow to innovate and adapt to changing tastes. However, the company has been working to change course; in 2017, the chain launched its first major redesign in almost twenty years.

The company that became Subway was founded in 1965, when a nuclear physicist named Dr. Peter Buck said to a 17-year-old named Fred DeLuca: “Let’s open a submarine sandwich shop.” (DeLuca originally planned to use his earnings to pay for his college tuition and become a doctor.) With a $1,000 initial investment from Buck, Subway grew into a chain with more than 40,000 franchises in more than 100 countries. It opened its first international store in Bahrain in 1984 and now has thousands of stores in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and Australia. By the end of 2010, Subway passed McDonald’s to become the world’s largest restaurant chain, CNN reports. Check out how 8 famous fast food chains got their names.

But some analysts thought the company might have overextended itself in opening franchises in the United States, the Associated Press reports, leading to declining sales. By 2016, Subway was closing more stores than it was opening. Next, read up on these 10 fast-food scandals that rocked the industry.

Jen McCaffery
Jen McCaffery is an associate editor for Reader’s Digest. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Prevention, Rhode Island Monthly, and other publications and websites. When she’s not writing or editing, she’s growing veggies or trying to figure out the way home from assorted trails.