How the Iconic Massachusetts Roast Beef Franchise was Founded on a Whim

Beloved for over 70 years in Boston and throughout the Northeast, iconic restaurant franchise, Kelly’s Roast Beef, is continuing to serve up its famous roast beef sandwiches and delicious seafood that has earned them a loyal “cult following”. Focused on quality and delivering an authentic New England experience, the franchise makes everything fresh at its restaurants and serves up classic seafood dishes from the area. In addition, the brand is continuing to expand as demand increases through its franchising opportunity which has already helped them grow to six open locations operating throughout the Boston metropolitan area, New Hampshire, and Florida, with more in development.


Beginning by accident one night on Revere Beach in Boston, Kelly’s Roast Beef is known as the inventor of the modern roast beef sandwich. Founders Frank V. McCarthy and Raymond Carey opened a hot dog shack and named it after their best friend, Thomas Kelly. Working for a special events venue next door, the duo was left with several spare pounds of roast beef one night after a wedding was canceled. Not wanting them to go to waste, they took the beef to the hot dog stand and began serving thinly sliced beef on a grilled hamburger roll the next day. The three cuts of roast beef they expected to last the entire day only lasted an hour, and in the end, the iconic Kelly’s Roast Beef Sandwich loved by many was born!


“There’s a reason why we’ve been a staple within Massachusetts for over 70 years: no other fast-casual concept compares to the high-quality food and customer service that Kelly’s delivers every single day,” said Neil Newcomb, CEO of Kelly’s Roast Beef Franchising. “We are committed to upholding our reputation and can’t wait to continue to grow throughout the nation.”


The restaurant soon became a local legend, earning them a loyal following and even earning national attention on the Food Network’s show $40 a Day with Rachael Ray, a PBS Special called “Sandwiches You Will Like”, by Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland by Ace Atkins, NBC’s three-time Emmy award-winning 30 Rock, and on the silver screen in Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting. In 2019, Thrillist named Kelly’s one of “11 New England Chains the Entire Country Needs” and Business Insider said travelers should not leave Boston without trying the roast beef sandwich at Kelly’s.


Today, the process begins with a carving machine thinly slices 25-day aged, medium-rare roasted sirloin-tip meat. The sirloin is then placed on a buttered, griddled hamburger roll, and topped with any condiments the customer desires plus a slice of cheese. Each location roasts its beef in-house all through the day, ensuring that sandwiches can still be carved to order as they have been for decades. Across its multiple locations, Kelly’s estimates a staggering one million sandwiches are sold a year. In addition to their famous sandwich, they also serve up New England seafood classics including fried whole belly clams, scallops, homemade clam chowder, and more.


Looking for ways to bring their famous food and concept to communities beyond Massachusetts, the Kelly’s team decided it was time to adapt their public image to reflect modernity and to remain competitive in the modern restaurant world. The brand took the steps of updating its historic carousel-themed dining rooms, its marketing strategy, and even its logo for a fresh look. The restaurant then began thinking of expanding through franchising and eventually launched the opportunity in 2020 with a systemized, easy-to-adopt business model. Franchise partners can expect crucial support from their expert leadership team along the way. Including a franchise fee of $40,000, the total initial investment to open a Kelly’s franchise is $1.8-$3 million. With six franchise locations currently open, the chain has larger goals of opening 50 new locations over the next five years.


“Kelly’s Roast Beef has been a staple among Bostonians for decades and we’re confident that new communities we enter will love our restaurant’s unique atmosphere,” said Neil Newcomb, CEO of Kelly’s Roast Beef Franchising. “Our commitment to quality is evident in our signature taste that is enjoyed by many. We can’t wait to continue growing this year with the help of our franchise partners and loyal communities.”


Now equipped with a more modern twist on their brand, Kelly’s Roast Beef continues to be loved by those who remember the nostalgic feeling of the restaurant as well as the modern consumer. 2022 brought in successful franchise development across the nation, an increase in company revenue, and a partnership with the online food marketplace, Goldbelly. This year, the brand is looking to enter both suburban and urban communities by introducing more to its iconic offerings and concept.


“The authenticity of Kelly’s Roast Beef is important to our brand and we’re proud to carry our rich history as we continue to open new locations,” said Newcomb. “We will continue to adapt our brand in order to appeal to the modern consumer while still maintaining our iconic identity.”