Banks are lending more to big restaurant franchisees after cutting back dramatically during the recession, but smaller players are still struggling. The issue becomes more critical for operators who need to find the money for required remodels. "There is a population of franchisees who got on board in the '70s and '80s when quick-serve and casual dining were really expanding, and they have a handful of units now. For small franchisees like that, a $600,000 to $800,000 remodel is a significant investment," said Brad Swanson, managing director of KeyBanc's consumer and retail group.

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