Basil Courvaras, co-owner of Smyrna, Ga.-based Atlanta Bread Company Bakery Cafe, laughs when you tell him he doesn't have the accent to go along with this obviously southern-based quick-service restaurant.

"It's more southern than you might think," he says by way of explaining that he and brother Jerry brought their passion for the business all the way from South Africa to Georgia.

After purchasing the chain from its original owners in 1996, the two are guiding the award winning Atlanta Bread concept through a rapid expansion of the franchisee operation. This expansion has been coupled with an overall revamping of the store's design.

"With any concept you want to be ahead of your game and try to be current," he says of the new store prototype. "We were trying to create a very warm, inviting and comfortable environment where customers could come in and not feel rushed. We wanted them to feel they could linger. We introduced fire places, softer sofas and more comfortable chairs as well, so they could feel more relaxed and not feel that they had to eat and leave. Many of our design elements try to encourage that."

Atlanta Bread officials peg the store as an upscale bakery that caters to a young professional and business crowd. They are concerned about what they eat even though they may not have a lot of time to spend with their lunch or breakfast.

"People who come to us are a little bit more discerning and a bit more selective about what they eat," he explains. "Everything we make is fresh baked daily, so it tastes better and is better for you. All the ingredients for our salads and soups are of the highest possible quality."

The concept has proven to be a successful one, and it has spread beyond the southeast as far north as Rochester, N.Y. and Madison, Wisc. With 78 stores already open in 17 states, the company plans to open 30 more units over the next six months in places such as Denver; Las Vegas; Dallas and Falls Church, Va.

Each of the new 4,000 sq. ft. stores will incorporate a unique look developed by Atlanta-based Phase One Design.

"Any design starts with the profile of the customer and the positioning or marketing strategy of the company," says Kathleen Socha, company president. "Atlanta Bread Company is quick service, but it's not fast food. It was very important that we establish a quality look and feel. It needed to be an environment that is reflective of the customer's profile. We used real wood, real tile and excellent lighting so that they feel as comfortable as they would in their own home."

A new menu ordering system was installed and a new color scheme shifts from hunter green to an earthy black and gold in the new locations. The new look features hardwood floors and deep crown moldings coupled with textured wall coverings.

"The old store was a very attractive package based on a deep dark hunter green," says Socha. "That look was very popular ten years ago. The new look keeps the wood and the brick exteriors and enhances it. We moved to black as an accent color as opposed to the green as a way of sharpening the look. We also modified the logo. Black and gold are the logo colors so we wanted a store that reflected those colors."