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Flashy fresh

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  • | 10:00 a.m. January 23, 2015
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Bob Basham and Nick Reader wanted something “flashy” for their next restaurant concept. So when Basham, an Outback cofounder, and Reader, former CFO of the Tampa Bay Bucs, put their heads together with former Carrabba's VP Bill Kadow to diversify the PDQ empire, they came up with pizza and burgers.

Pizza and burgers might not sound that flashy, with more than 71,000 pizza stores and nearly 51,200 burger joints in the United States, according to industry publications. But the idea had been brewing for some time. “Bob Basham and I always talked about doing something with pizza,” Kadow says. If you ask 1,000 people to name the top three food items they go out for, Kadow is willing to bet that burgers and pizza would make the top two.

So last July, Basham and Kadow went on a trip to California to evaluate restaurant concepts. They visited Habit Burger and were impressed by how well received and busy the chain was. “They also just went public, so that was intriguing,” Kadow says. For pizza, they were inspired by Mario Batali's concepts.

After viewing the success of the West Coast restaurants, they created Wow! That's Fresh, and opened the chain's first restaurant in Brandon last October. The restaurant attracts 6,000 to 7,000 customers weekly, surpassing the company's expected targets.

Wow! That's Fresh follows a similar model to PDQ, which focuses on fresh fried chicken. Wow! That's Fresh has 40 employees, including full time and part time, similar to PDQ's standard 35 employees to location.

PDQ's journey has proven that Basham and Reader have what it takes to quickly scale a fast casual restaurant. The duo opened the first PDQ in South Tampa in late 2011 and now have 34 locations, with several more in the works from Las Vegas to Texas and from Florida to North Carolina.

Just as they weren't worried entering the chicken restaurant world with competitors like Chick-fil-A, they don't seem concerned about making an impact with burgers and pizza. A restaurant is successful “if you are confident and different enough,” according to DJ Hood, Wow! That's Fresh's operating director. Hood says the brand differentiates itself by providing all of its options with fresh ingredients, at the speed of a drive-thru.

The pizzas are made with olive oil from Spain, a blend of four cheeses, seasoning, and hand tossed dough—“the freshest produce,” Hood insists. Hamburger meat is never frozen and neither are the fries, which are punched on spot. Burgers are expected to be served as soon as they come off the grill; if they cook too many, they're not used.

Brandon was the perfect location to start the chain, according to Hood and Kadow. They built right on State Road 60, where there is a lot of traffic and the area continues to grow. There are also a lot of families and schools in the area, bringing them a decent amount of customers at night. Just like PDQ, lunch tends to be busiest. The restaurant started a pizza and drink happy hour from 3 to 5 p.m. to attract the after-school crowd when things are quiet.

Though the restaurant in Brandon is surrounded by a Steak n' Shake, Five Guys and Papa John's Pizza, and countless other restaurants, Kadow and Hood insist it is a good thing to be next to other options. If you squeeze a bunch of concepts together, generally everyone wins because it becomes the go-to spot for food, according to Hood. You just have to work to be the top choice out of the selection.

To help get noticed, Basham and Reader designed the building to catch the eye. “The building stands out itself,” Kadow says. The building has a tall tower with lights that change color. “You can see it from a mile away. If you put this building on a strip in Vegas it would fit right in,” he adds.

The company plans to test out the location before expanding to other areas. “We're getting everything ironed out to see if there are changes needed to the building,” Kadow says. So far there are some small items like rearranging some kitchen equipment and perhaps downsizing the building, Hood says. The idea is to continue to build from scratch, like they did in Brandon, because “sometimes that's less expensive,” Kadow says. “Otherwise you're handicapped with what you started with,” Hood adds.

The next Wow! That's Fresh location is expected to open this summer in Carrollwood. The company is also looking at one more location in north Tampa. “We're not thinking past Tampa right now,” Kadow says, but once they feel they've saturated the market a bit, they'll look to Fort Myers and Sarasota for expansion.


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