P. Terry’s is the result of Patrick Terry’s carefully curated goal to own a hamburger restaurant. The cofounder recalls his dream from childhood, when he frequented his local burger “driveteria” in West Texas. His passion evolved in his teens, when he started working as a restaurant employee.
“I used to drive around at night and look at different locations—what they were doing, why they were doing it; what was successful, and what wasn’t,” Terry says.
That dream continued into Terry’s adulthood. In 1983, while working in the advertising industry, Terry launched a take-and-bake pizza concept in Dallas called Capisto’s. He then worked several other restaurant-industry jobs before opening the first P. Terry’s in a 527-square-foot space in 2005 in Austin, Texas. P. Terry’s has since grown to 16 stores, with drive thru–only locations at around 950 square feet and dining-room locations that measure up to 2,800 square feet.
Terry laid the foundation for P. Terry’s based on influences from his youth. But he acknowledges that his wife, Kathy, was a crucial part of its execution. “Kathy provided much legwork and so much planning to actually make it happen,” Terry says. “It was a true partnership.”
Kathy Terry did more than just contribute operational help. Before P. Terry’s opened, she handed her husband Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation. The book detailed the history of fast food and the way quality had suffered due to trends in price and volume. For Patrick Terry, the book served as a wakeup call for his restaurant’s principles. The Terrys felt an obligation to serve the best-quality food they could.
As a result, P. Terry’s serves all-natural beef that is hormone-free, vegetarian-fed, and antibiotic-free. The restaurant uses Idaho Burbank potatoes for its fries, and fries them in oil that is 100 percent free of hydrogenation. These options weren’t exactly commonplace a decade ago, but Terry says he knew the food was going to impact people he cared about. He would be eating the food, and so would his children and friends.
The menuboard is simple, with burgers, fries, milkshakes, a small breakfast menu, and a handful of other items. Simple menus, Terry says, mean shorter lines. Customers seem to like the basics, too, with cheeseburgers being the clear customer favorite.
FOUNDER(S): Kathy & Patrick Terry
HEADQUARTERS: Austin, Texas
YEAR STARTED: 2005
ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed
TOTAL UNITS: 16
FRANCHISED UNITS: 0
Terry was steadfast in his decision to offer just a hamburger and fries until his wife convinced him that the restaurant would benefit from offering other options. P. Terry’s expanded its menu to include a chicken burger, which P. Terry’s creates using a ground chicken breast. In keeping with Austin’s healthy vibe, the brand offers a veggie burger created using a combination of brown rice, creamy mushrooms, black beans, fresh parsley, and grated cheddar cheese.
The prices aren’t worth stressing over, either, with each option ranging from $2 to $4. Terry saw his cheap prices simply as an effort to allow anybody to eat at P. Terry’s. “[Eating at P. Terry’s] can still be a fun experience and shouldn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg,” he says.
But by no means do P. Terry’s prices mean that the experience feels cheap. The Googie architecture of a P. Terry’s is less reminiscent of a burger restaurant and more like a building plucked from an episode of “The Jetsons.” Popularized in the ’50s and ’60s, Googie architecture features material like stone, wood, and glass to create spaces filled with natural light. It aims to create a sense of timelessness whenever a customer walks in.
“I find it to be very calming and warm,” Terry says of the architecture. “You can tell by the comfort level the customers have in the store that it’s just got a nice, relaxing atmosphere.”
The brand’s welcoming atmosphere is somewhat reciprocal of Austin’s equally accepting attitude toward it. Terry says that while P. Terry’s couldn’t have survived in many other cities, Austin proved a great choice for the restaurant’s base. The brand’s positive relationship with the area has encouraged P. Terry’s to expand beyond the Austin market, with plans to grow across Texas.
The Terrys are conscious of the restaurant’s new distances to the P. Terry’s commissary, opening their first location 30 miles outside Austin in San Marcos. From there, they plan on tackling larger distances, with locations planned in San Antonio and Houston.
The Terrys want to make sure P. Terry’s grows the way they want it to, with no plans to franchise anytime soon.
“We’re control freaks. I don’t think we could give the control up. We just feel like it runs better if it’s under the company umbrella,” Terry says.
One of Terry’s priorities has been staffing the right people to fit into P. Terry’s culture. To make sure it grows in the right direction, the company named Todd Coerver—former CEO at Larkburger and exec at Whataburger—as the new CEO to lead its expansion. Terry is optimistic of the company’s direction, with eight planned stores bringing the total to 24 P. Terry’s within the next two years.
“I think we’re on our way,” he says. “From there we’ll just hopefully have bigger and better things.”