Fattening up in lean times: Fifteen businesses growing in the recession

A recession seems like the worst possible time for a company to launch a major expansion. However, as many chains have recently discovered, lower rents and economizing consumers can make this the perfect time to build a brand. With millions of people reconsidering their spending habits and searching for better deals, some well-known behemoths -- and a few obscure upstarts -- are making their play for a bigger piece of the pie.

Over the last few decades, "value" has been a synonym for "cheap," and many consumers have turned up their nose at stores that dared to use the v-word. But with discretionary income evaporating and job prospects disappearing, words like "bargain," "thrifty," and even "cheap" have gained fresh traction. In fact, many of the big recessionary expanders have managed to build their businesses by convincing customers that they are a viable option to more expensive purchases.

This trend has been particularly notable in the restaurant business. Over the past year, dining out has gradually transformed from a standard expense to a special occasion. At the same time, many big chains have moved to catch customers who like the convenience of restaurants, but aren't excited about the price.