Emerging Concepts | July 2014 | By Judy Kneiszel

Ones To Watch: PDQ

Now expanding across the Southeast, this fast casual is an upscale player in the competitive chicken segment.
Premium chicken restaurant chain PDQ leverages high quality product and experience.
PDQ
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The letters in the name PDQ have two different meanings. First and foremost, they stand for “people dedicated to quality,” says PDQ principal Nick Reader. They also stand for “pretty darn quick,” as the concept is a fast casual that focuses on speedy delivery.

“Our people are what we pride ourselves on most,” says Reader, a former CFO for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who founded PDQ with Bob Basham, cofounder of Outback Steakhouse.

To ensure customers connect with the people operating each PDQ restaurant, the concept features open kitchens and drive thrus where orders are placed face-to-face rather than through an intercom system. Inside PDQ stores, menuboards are at eye level to facilitate a connection between guest and counter worker.

“All of these things allow our people to be more interactive with the guests,” Reader says. “Traditionally, fast-casual restaurants have that Wizard of Oz atmosphere, where customers aren’t supposed to see what’s going on behind the curtains. We didn’t want that. At PDQ, people can see their chicken and potatoes being cut up and their salads being tossed.”

Quality is demonstrated by the fact that everything at PDQ is made fresh on site, Reader says. This includes seven signature sauces and salad dressings. The homemade salad dressings include standards like Ranch and Bleu Cheese, as well as some unique offerings like Blueberry-Ginger Vinaigrette and Low-Fat Fiesta Vinaigrette. The homemade dipping sauces include Buffalo Bleu, Creamy Garlic, Chipotle BBQ, Honey Mustard, Ranch, and Sweet Heat.

PDQ

Cofounders Nick Reader and Bob Basham

HQ: Tampa, Florida

Year Started: 2011

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 22

Franchise units: 4

www.eatpdq.com

The chicken at PDQ is served in a three-, four-, or five-piece Fresh Tenders Meal; in a two-piece Kids Meal; and in sandwiches and salads, and always starts fresh and is hand breaded. In addition to crispy fried tenders, guests can choose grilled chicken and grilled and crispy turkey breast for sandwiches and salads.

“We’re not just a fried tenders place,” Reader says. “We are very proud of our salads and sandwiches, too. Our tenders get talked about because kids enjoy them, but PDQ is a restaurant where anyone can find something they like.”

Those other items range from a Classic Caesar Salad to the Grilled Turkey Sandwich described on the menu as “Hand-held Thanksgiving.” It is served on an egg bun with traditional spices, seasoned mayo, lettuce, and cranberry.

PDQ’s freshness philosophy extends to its sides, like the french fries that are cut in each store from fresh, whole potatoes. Reader says the quality of PDQ fries starts with the brand’s farmer suppliers, who store potatoes in a climate-controlled facility and ship them out the same way.

“We hand cut the fries, bake them, and then cool them for four hours before we fry them,” Reader says. “This makes them healthier because we only fry them once. They are a bit lower in calories, and this process helps the fries stay crisper longer. It’s almost a two-day process, but we feel it’s optimal for flavor and taste.”

Other sides on the menu include Fresh Apple Slices with Toffee Dip and Fresh Blueberry Coleslaw.

“Bob [Basham] and I want to be chefs ourselves,” Reader says. “We had fresh blueberries, so we tried them in coleslaws and it was really good. The blueberries give it a nice flavor profile that mixes well with the other items on the menu.”

Another specialty of the house is the Hand Spun Shakes, available in seven everyday flavors—including chocolate, strawberry, malt, and chocolate peanut butter—plus a seasonal flavor, like the recent Salted Caramel option.

“Employees can nominate a seasonal shake flavor,” Reader says. “It’s a fun way for employees to get involved.”

He says the growth plan for the PDQ concept is similar to the recipe for its shakes: Make one at time and do it right. There are PDQ locations in Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Alabama. Reader says there are plans to expand into South Texas and Southern Georgia.

“We’ll fill those markets out slowly and see how they do,” he says. He estimates that by mid-2015 there will be a total of 40 PDQ locations.

Many individual locations offer a mix of table, counter, booth, and outdoor seating, and each location is built at about 4,000 square feet. “All of our sites are free standing, ” Reader says. “We look for areas that have both day and nighttime population. Our appeal isn’t age specific, but we do well with families and look to be in areas with a lot of families.” The drive thru, meanwhile, makes up about 40 percent of the chain’s total sales.

Reader says that when he and Basham came up with the PDQ concept, their goal was something that would appeal to parents, grandparents, and children. In addition to the fresh menu items and affordable $7 average per-person ticket, features that appeal to families include the Coca-Cola Freestyle drink machines, the variety of seating options, and the sinks, he says.

“We have foot-controlled hand-washing stations out in every dining room,” he says. “Parents of young kids love it. People can wash their hands without having to go into the bathroom. It also sends a message of cleanliness, like the open kitchen.”