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PDQ brings fresh chicken and turkey to fast food sandwich board

Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham, left, and Nick Reader, CEO of MVP Holdings, launched PDQ in Tampa.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham, left, and Nick Reader, CEO of MVP Holdings, launched PDQ in Tampa.

Chick-fil-A fans: There's a new upstart with a well-known pedigree angling for your business.

Short for "pretty darned quick," PDQ is a new fast-food chain specializing in Chick-fil-A staples like chicken tenders, chicken salads and chicken sandwiches cooked up by an Outback Steakhouse co-founder.

"We bring good-tasting food made from scratch to the quick serve chicken arena," said Bob Basham, who spent a year and $3 million creating the startup. "The only freezers on premises are icemakers for drinks."

After a week, the first PDQ is off to quick start. Despite the MacDill Air Show nearby and the Bucs being on TV, the PDQ lot at 2207 S Dale Mabry was full at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, cars lined up seven deep at the drive-through and the crew needed four minutes to fill orders in a jammed 84-seat dining room, two minutes longer than the goal.

They're already searching for a second and third site, and frankly don't know yet how big a chain PDQ can be. "We never realized Outback would have 100 stores within five years of opening the first one in South Tampa," said Basham.

PDQ joins a growing lineup of startups launched locally by teams of former Outback executives. Basham and Chris Sullivan, another Outback co-founder, remain directors with minority ownership stakes in the privately held 1,400 store parent they once led. But both are busy creating their own new concepts beyond the umbrella of OSI Restaurant Partners Inc.

Other properties include Lee Roy Selmon's, a seven store barbecue chain also owned by MVP Restaurant Holdings which runs multi-investor ventures for Outback co-founders. With other investors, Sullivan opened Carmel Cafe, a Mediterranean cuisine tapas-style restaurant in Clearwater with iPads for menus that just added a second location in Carrollwood.

Then there is Fitlife Foods, a healthful premade meal purveyor run by former Outback exec David Osterweil, who just opened his second store in Carrollwood and is looking in Brandon. Meantime, former Outbackers Ben Novello and Jim Pollard have grown World of Beer into a 16 location upscale tavern chain with 12 more under construction. Novello and Pollard sold an earlier stake in Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza back to its Fort Lauderdale owners.

Basham led a 17-restaurant search for the right breaded chicken recipe for PDQ. He found it at two-store Tenders near Charlotte, N.C., and signed the owners as partners.

The PDQ menu is post card short. Milk shakes, five dipping sauces, fresh lemonade, hand-cut fries, toffee-dipped apple slices, grilled or crispy breaded chicken or turkey sandwiches touted as "handheld Thanksgiving."

The idea to grill or fry 4-ounce turkey breast sandwiches came from MVP CEO Nick Reader, a former Buccaneers CFO and confessed turk-a-holic.

"No other chain did it," he said.

Basham made PDQ a Buick-level fast food experience. In addition to modern furniture and Corian counters, the digital menu boards are at eye level so cashiers make eye contact. The drive-through squawk box was replaced by a real person (including one to work the line of cars with a notebook computer). A worker washing and cutting fries in a picture window by the drive-through is a visual reminder that PDQ's food is fresh. To ensure cleanliness, Basham placed a pedal-driven sink for hand washing outside the public restrooms.

He borrowed from In-N-Out Burger, the retro California chain that elevated quick-serve burgers to an art form. Sandwiches are wrapped in paper to catch dribbles. An expediter matches customer names to their orders, part of a labor intensive staff of 75.

But at $7 a meal, PDQ is within a buck of Chick-fil-A, the biggest chicken chain behind KFC, which freezes its meats and fries.

Basham has more chain ideas.

"But if I tell you," he joked. "I'd have to kill you."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

PDQ brings fresh chicken and turkey to fast food sandwich board 11/07/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 10:37pm]
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