MCDONALD'S MULLS HEARTH TAKEOUT UNITS

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Hoping to join the increasing number of fast-food chains making headway with takeout dinner sales, McDonald's Corp. is considering opening two restaurants in Chicago called Hearth Express.

The restaurants will neither bear the McDonald's name nor the company's logo; nor will they serve the traditional burger and fries, sources say. The Hearth restaurants, similar in design to hot chains like Boston Chicken, reportedly will feature rotisserie chicken, meat loaf, chicken pot pie and side dishes.

McDonald's said Hearth Express is just a test, and McDonald's USA President-CEO Ed Rensi insisted "there's no story there." But the concept seems to trade on several successful ideas already in the marketplace, like rotisserie chicken chains and the small Chicago-based chain with a similar-sounding name, Heartwise Express, which offers "low-fat, low-sodium, low-cholesterol fast-food."

Heartwise Express now has a store in Chicago and another in west suburban Lombard, Ill. It plans to open three more units this year, with long-term plans to develop the heart-healthy concept in California. The two current stores, located in shopping malls, do a booming lunch business.

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