Antioch Pizza Shop is targeting the Milwaukee area as part of plans for large-scale growth across the Midwest and Southeast. The Antioch, Illinois-based restaurant chain is in talks to open new franchise locations in Grafton, Kenosha and Racine. The company also hopes to eventually move into downtown Milwaukee. Antioch Pizza currently has seven locations -- five in Illinois and two in Wisconsin, in Paddock Lake and Burlington. By 2026, the company plans to have a total of 30 restaurants open or in development in Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, in addition to Illinois and Wisconsin. "We've started at the Illinois-Wisconsin border and our growth plan is to split our efforts both north and south," said Art Wicklein, co-owner of Antioch Pizza Shop. Art and his wife Karen Wicklein bought Antioch Pizza Shop from the original owner in 2008 as they were looking for a recession-proof business. The company began expanding in 2016 after the Wickleins agreed to franchise the brand to a longtime friend.Now as Antioch Pizza continues to expand, the company is targeting southeastern Wisconsin for the business growth that has taken place throughout the region, including along the I-94 corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee. "We travel back and forth through there on a weekly basis and the last five years have been pretty amazing, so it's very attractive from a business standpoint," said Art Wicklein. He also said Milwaukee's cultural diversity is a huge draw, especially from a workforce perspective. Antioch currently has 225 employees and plans to hire 30 to 60 employees at each new store location. Antioch is seeking both single- and multi-unit deals and franchisees who fit the Antioch brand, said Wicklein. "We very family-oriented and we're looking for people who want to join a family-friendly brand and are community oriented themselves," he said. "Our approach is to find the right people and then help them find a spot that fits them." Existing Antioch restaurants occupy a range of retail spaces, from stand-alone buildings to drive-thru sites, but they all are located in neighborhoods along major roads. Wicklein said the business is open to other real estate opportunities, but locations in close proximity to families have contributed to the brand's success, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.