Monday, January 19, 2015

PDQ May Come to Atlanta... But NTS

PDQ's location in Evans
Chicken tender eatery enters Georgia

Tampa-based PDQ (People Dedicated to Quality) may come to metro Atlanta... but no time soon.  PDQ serves a fairly simple menu consisting largely of chicken tenders, sandwiches and salads.  Fries, "hand-spun" milkshakes, and assorted "homemade" cookies are also available. Beverages include fresh-squeezed lemonade and fresh-brewed sweet, unsweet and green tea. Additionally, PDQ prominently displays and offers bottled Cheerwine, the North Carolina-based cherry-flavored soda with a cult- like following.    

I visited a PDQ for the first time on a recent trip to south Florida.  The restaurant featured an open kitchen, large dine-in area, drive-through, clean look and a friendly staff.  I had a four piece meal which came with fries and a drink. With the promise of a freshly-baked cookie, I bought one of their seasonal Chocolate Chunk cookies, too.  At just over ten bucks including tax, a bit pricey for a "fast casual" concept, but overall very good.  The tenders were clearly freshly made and an assortment of homemade sauces in which to dip or drizzle them was available.    

PDQ currently has about 40 locations in seven states.  The first Georgia location opened this past September in Evans.  

A second PDQ was planned for nearby Augusta, but is reportedly "delayed indefinitely" for unspecified reasons.  The Augusta location was to have opened on Washington Road, off I-20 and in front of Washington Crossing shopping center. Washington Crossing underwent a $40 million renovation that included the addition of the area's first Whole Foods Market, DSW, HomeGoods and Half-Moon Outfitters. The parcel PDQ would occupy was home to a Circle K convenience store that closed early last year.  

The Evans franchise group, H2 Restaurant Partners LLC, reportedly includes Tim Tebow and Vinny Testaverde, both former NFL quarterbacks.  The group has the development rights to north Florida and Georgia.  Currently, the group operates three locations in Jacksonville, one in Ocala and the one in Evans.  

The franchise group reportedly wants to be in Atlanta, but one could not fault them for taking it slow, and being very selective given the numbers and name recognition of Chick-fil-A in Atlanta. The late S. Truett Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A (known then as "Dwarf Grill") in Hapeville in 1946. Today, the chain has over 200 locations in Georgia and nearly 2,000 locations in 41 states.  As I mentioned last year, Chick-fil-A plans to open a new location near Georgia Tech this fall.   

Additionally, Athens-based Zaxby's also operates over 200 locations in Georgia (with over 600 overall in 16 states) and has been expanding heavily in recent years, especially in and around metro Atlanta.

I reached Jeff Kamis, Chief Marketing & PR Officer for PDQ, who informed me there were no firm expansion plans for Georgia, but that additional locations were possible.  My guess is that the local franchise group will explore locations in cities like Carrollton, Statesboro, Rome, and Macon, among others, before considering metro Atlanta locations.  

Bob Basham, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse, opened the first PDQ in October 2011 in Tampa. Originally meant to stand for "Pretty Darn Quick," the PDQ branding was later changed to "People Dedicated to Quality."  The Pretty Darn Quick description was meant to emulate California's In-N-Out.  PDQ, like In-N-Out, both feature typical "fast food" fare, but each is seen as slightly upscale from its competitors. 

Nearly all PDQ locations are freestanding restaurants with the exception of a single concession location within Amalie Arena, home of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning.  

It's likely that when / if an entry into metro Atlanta takes place, PDQ will look to open "inline" or other non-freestanding locations to reduce costs.  Freestanding restaurants, especially "new builds," can cost upwards of $1 million with real estate being a separate, likely higher, expense in larger markets like metro Atlanta.   

Columbus, Ohio-based Donatos Pizza once operated over 20 locations in metro Atlanta. Having reportedly spent about $750,000 per unit, the chain was not profitable and exited the market.  As I mentioned last yearDonatos is once again independent, having been previously owned by McDonald's, and is reportedly targeting Atlanta for new locations, most, if not all of which, will likely be inline locations.  

PDQ's Basham, along with co-founder Nick Reader, former CFO of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, opened a second concept this past October.  WTF (WOW! That's Fresh) a concept serving burgers, pizzas and salads, opened in Brandon, Florida.  There are no immediate plans to expand the concept either in Florida or elsewhere, but surely that will be considered if WTF proves as popular as PDQ.

College Station, Texas-based Grub Burger Bar, another concept with ties to Outback Steakhouse, entered the Atlanta market last year

Jimmy Loup, Grub's co-founder, as well as Curt Steinlage, "market partner" for Grub Burger Bar in Atlanta, are former "joint venture partners" with Outback Steakhouse.  Loup was with the casual chain restaurant for nearly seven years, while Steinlage was with Outback for nearly 13 years.    Loup's business mentor and partner in Grub, Tom Kenney, was  also a joint venture partner with Outback for 13 years.

The first Atlanta area Grub is located on Cobb Parkway in Akers Mill.  A second location is slated to open February 3rd in Brighten Park in place of Lettuce  Souprise You.

Have you been to PDQ?  If so, what were your thoughts?  Where would you like to see PDQ open next in Georgia? 

Please share your thoughts below.    


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a slightly upscale Zaxby’s. I would definitely try it out, but not sure I’ll pay more for basically the same experience.

Anonymous in East Cobb said...

Zaxby's ain't exactly cheap. I do like them but their food seems so salty to me. Maybe I'm just getting more sensitive to salt as I get older.

AtlCREChris said...

Good article- very well researched

Atlantan99 said...

@Anon RE: saltiness,

I'm with you 100%. I think it's gotten worse and as a result, I have not been back in months. Sad, I used to love it / travel for it and now with two close by, I never go.

Thanks for your comments and readership.

Anonymous said...

I tried a PDQ over Christmas in Jacksonville and it blew away both Zaxby's and Chic fil A. It is definitely a step up from both quality and atmosphere wise and my wife loved their salads.