The corner of Statesville and Westmoreland roads in Cornelius was the birthplace of what has become one of the fastest-growing small restaurant chains in America.
Now, the owners of that chain want to make sure future development doesn’t push them away from the location where it all started.
The Florida-based holding company for the eight-state chain of PDQ restaurants is finalizing plans to buy a vacant lot at the southeast corner of Statesville and Westmoreland roads, immediately across Statesville Road from Tenders, the chicken restaurant that became the inspiration and prototype for the PDQ chain.
PDQ leases the Tenders property, and fears that the restaurant could be forced out if the tract is developed in the future, said Jack Murray III, who leads PDQ’s business development efforts.
“That location, that restaurant and that community mean so much to us, that we’re willing to buy the property across the street in the hopes that we never use it,” Murray said.
The company is seeking conditional zoning that would allow the new restaurant to include a drive-thru that faces the street, which it says is unavoidable on a corner lot. The town’s Architectural Review Board was scheduled to consider the request at its Oct. 22 meeting. The request then would come before the town board.
From Tenders to PDQ
In 2009, the founders of the popular 131 Main restaurant in Cornelius came up with an idea for a new restaurant. Why not offer a limited menu of freshly made food, allowing employees to focus on quality and speedy service?
That restaurant was Tenders, whose small selection of freshly prepared chicken entrees, hand-cut fries and beverages (including hand-spun shakes) became an instant hit.
Because owners Joe Douglas, Chris Carlsen and Mike Vaughn were essentially testing the appeal of their idea, they opened Tenders in the original Lake House Restaurant at Statesville and Westmoreland, even though the building was destined for demolition when construction began on the then-planned Augustalee mega-development.
If Tenders took off, great. If not, they wouldn’t leave behind an empty building, as had at least two previous owners after opening their restaurants there.
The Augustalee project failed before it ever really started. Not so for Tenders. Outback Steakhouse co-founder Bob Basham and MVP Holdings CEO Nick Reader bought Tenders – and its fresh-food-fast concept – in 2011.
Basham and Reader added a few salads to the menu and made a few other tweaks, then decided they were ready to take Tenders into new markets. When they ran into legal issues using the Tenders name in at least one of their target states, they decided to go with “PDQ,” which stands for People Dedicated to Quality.
The partners felt it was important to keep the Tenders name at the original restaurant, however, even as the Florida-based chain grew to what it expects to be a total of 50 PDQ stores in eight states by the end of 2015.
Tenders sits at the corner of a 104-acre tract now owned by executives of Concord-based marketing company ACN Inc., who so far have been mum about their plans for the property once targeted for a mix of commercial and residential development that would have rivaled nearby Birkdale Village.
“I hope we have Tenders there for the rest of my life,” PDQ’s Murray said. “But it’s on land owned by people with no relationship with PDQ.”
PDQ has submitted plans to the town of Cornelius for a 3,300-square-foot Tenders restaurant across the road.
Murray and his company hope those plans do nothing more than collect dust, just as Augustalee’s did.
John Deem is a freelance writer: email@example.com.