Thursday, February 22, 2018
Business

Love of food, football line career track of Jesuit alum

It's no coincidence that when customers walk in to a PDQ restaurant, there is a family-friendly atmosphere.

From the never-frozen food to the interactive ordering, everything is geared toward creating a relaxing yet quick dining experience.

So it should come as no surprise that the CEO of MVP Holdings, the company that owns PDQ, Lee Roy Selmon's, Glory Days Grill and the new Wow! That's Fresh, is a down-to-earth family man himself.

Nick Reader, married father of three, was born in Chicago and moved to Tampa at the age of 5. He turned into a true Floridian, playing football at Jesuit High School, attending the University of Florida and working as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. That job eventually led to his becoming the chief financial officer for the Buccaneers and then a position with the MVP Holdings team.

Now he's helping to create jobs and bring great food to the Tampa Bay area, including two new PDQs in the SouthShore and Brandon area and the company's first Wow! That's Fresh, on Brandon Boulevard.

Reader, 39, recently shared his thoughts about the business with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Arielle Waldman.

Can you apply your football knowledge to the food industry?

When you have a great leader like we did with Coach (Dominick) Ciao, you learn it's not sports or this business, but it's just how to deal with people or a team. That's why sports are important growing up, especially a game like football where everyone's working together for a common goal and interacting together. I certainly think there is a definite overlap there.

Did you think you'd be a professional athlete when you grew up?

I think every kid growing up does. I didn't have the skills to match the desire, though. I did always dream of being on an NFL GameDay, and being fortunate enough to work with the Buccaneers, I did get to say I was officially in an NFL program. If you ask my 9- or 11-year-old what they want to do, one's going to be a professional baseball player and the other wants to be either a Navy SEAL or a professional football player, so.

Was the acronym for your new concept, Wow! That's Fresh, done on purpose?

I wouldn't say on purpose. We wanted to do something with "fresh" and we were trying to figure out what the best name would be, and it kind of came about half-laughing after we liked "wow" and we liked "fresh" and we just plugged in some words. Actually, one of our attorneys was like, "What about 'Wow, That's Fresh'?" We loved it, and we said as long as it's not in everyone's faces, it should be good. We have gotten good feedback. It kind of came about and hopefully it's not offensive. I think people will remember it.

How did you come up with the new menu, which includes burgers and pizzas?

I think we like the idea of PDQ, great food done fast and made from scratch. We wanted to keep the core values. The most popular foods in the U.S. are chicken tenders, burgers and pizza, and we didn't feel like we could do justice in PDQ with the pretty darn quick, expediting the drive-throughs and making everything from scratch with no freezers, to serve all three. We always liked the idea of doing something with pizzas and burgers and we got so many requests saying, "Hey, I wish you guys had a hamburger."

How will it be similar to PDQ?

Everything will be made from scratch, no preservatives or chemicals. You can eat as healthy as you want. You know today I got chicken tenders for lunch and probably ate way too many, but I had been out of town and hadn't had them for a week, but it's clean eating.

What makes PDQ and the company successful?

There is a reason the P is first, the people. We have been really blessed. You talked about sports earlier, you know we had a great mentor like Coach Ciao and when you have great people, they execute the plan that you want. We try to give customers the same experience they would have at a sit-down or fine-dining restaurant in a fast-casual setting, so I think that diversifies us. I mean the food obviously is the food, but the customers make up their own mind and people have been very pleased. I think we are proudest of our people though and the job creation, and that kind of stuff. It's fun for us.

Do you do team building exercises?

We do. Stores will do stuff like have a bowling night. We let management have the ability to do what they feel is necessary. You know, I think part of it is just hiring the right people from the management down. When you are growing like we are, there is a lot of opportunity for growth. We always tell our people, "We want you to get better, whether it's with us or your next job. Don't ever feel bad if you find a better job, we are right here for you." We will give them recommendations or a day off if they need it, because our job as their employer is make them better, whether it's with us or not. It's a fun environment, so we are growing and people see it. This is our proudest thing. We have two people who started with us at minimum wage who are now in management of two of our stores, in Carrollwood and Wesley Chapel. They are making six figures now, running a store, in their early 20s. It's very life changing. I think people get caught up in where you start versus saying "where is the opportunity for promotion?"

So you grew up in the restaurant business?

I worked a lot of jobs through school. I worked in restaurants because I always liked to eat. My two favorite things were eating and football, so I got to work in the NFL and now I get to work in the restaurant industry with some good people.

Did you ever work in your restaurants?

Early on we worked shifts in every store. I worked at the S Dale Mabry location every day for the first six months. I did everything. They would tell you I didn't do well, but I thought I was really good. We still go to openings and (MVP principal and Outback Steakhouse co-founder) Bob Basham gives a great speech. I think it's impactive because there aren't many guys who are self-made in this country like he is, with Outback. It's neat for the kids to see "Hey, I started working in a restaurant as an hourly person and now I'm doing well."

Weekend Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.

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