Smashburger is planning a major comeback -- and then some -- in the Columbus market.

Smashburger is planning a major comeback -- and then some -- in the Columbus market.

The three stores that closed in September will reopen over the next few weeks, while additional locations are being planned for Dublin, Polaris, Pickerington and near Hilliard and Grandview Heights.

Two new Smashburgers are expected to open this year and the remainder will do so by the end of 2018, said Scott Crane, president and CEO of the Denver-based company.

Crane said it took months to rehire roughly 80 employees and rework the leases to get the initial sites -- located in Westerville, Gahanna and Lewis Center -- back in operation. They are now corporate-owned stores.

"We tried to react as quickly as we could," Crane said.

The state of Ohio revoked the vendors' license of Venture53 Restaurants, the former franchisee, for failing to pay state taxes.

That means Smashburger, which will open about 80 stores this year, is back in business against the likes of Bareburger, B Spot, Flip Side, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Ted's Montana Grill and others in the so-called gourmet burger realm.

"(Columbus is) really not as competitive in terms of the 'better burger' segment as some of our other markets are, but it is very competitive for restaurants and fast-casual restaurants," Crane said.

The three central Ohio restaurants will be reopened on a staggered schedule: Jan. 20, Westerville Square, Westerville; Feb. 3, 109 N. Hamilton Road, Gahanna; and Feb. 16, 8715 Owenfield Drive, Lewis Center.

Jenny Hill, director of marketing and communications for Otterbein University, looks forward to the return of Smashburger in Westerville, particularly because of the chicken sandwiches.

"The thing I like about them is they have some unique choices for people like me who don't eat beef," she said. "Their french fries are my favorite, hands-down. They're so good. And they do hand-dipped milkshakes, which is rare in fast food, too."

Gift cards purchased before the stores closed will be honored when they reopen.

Smashburger was founded in 2007 in Denver. The first Columbus store opened in 2013. There are 351 locations -- 189 corporate-owned -- operating in 35 states and seven countries.