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Subway beats McDonald's to become top restaurant chain

By Julianne Pepitone, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Move over, Mickey D's, and bring Ronald McDonald with you -- there's a new fast food king in town.

Subway has surpassed McDonald's to become the world's largest restaurant chain in terms of units, the sandwich company confirmed Monday.

Subway had 33,749 restaurants around the globe at the end of 2010, said company spokesman Les Winograd. McDonald's had 32,737 at year end, according to a February regulatory filing from the burger giant.

"Last year was actually pretty average for us, growth-wise," Winograd said. "We aim to open between 1,000 and 2,000 locations globally each year."

A McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500) spokeswoman said in a prepared statement that her company "continues to be focused on our business, and serving our customers. Our business continues to be strong and we are growing by being better, not just bigger."

As of Monday, Subway has 34,218 locations globally -- all of which are owned by franchisees.

About half of the company's unit growth is overseas, Winograd said. Subway now has more than 1,000 locations in Asia, and it just opened its first store in Vietnam. Other high-growth nations include Brazil, Mexico, India, China, Russia and France.

"A lot of our growth has been in non-traditional spaces that our competitors might not touch," Winograd said. "We have really unique ones, like on a riverboat in Germany, a church in Buffalo, car dealers, bowling alleys and casinos. We're not just in strip malls."

Fast food as a whole has gotten a boost from the recession -- even in unexpected demographics. Last month, an American Express survey showed quick service restaurants saw a bigger rise in spending by ultra-affluent consumers than any other restaurant type last year.

"It's a feeling of accomplishment, for sure," Winograd said. "But we didn't set out to surpass anyone in particular." To top of page

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