Nick Reader (BSAc ’97) remembers the conversation with his wife, Melanie (B.A.E ’97, M.Ed. ’98), before he started his entrepreneurial journey—a scary departure from his lucrative and prominent position as Chief Financial Officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The bad news was that I was going to make next to nothing, we'd have no health insurance, and she probably needed to go back to work," Reader recalls.
The good news?
Said Reader: "We would own something."
That something turned out to be PDQ, a national restaurant chain that is redefining fast casual dining. Reader's efforts were recently recognized with the 2016 EY Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Florida Award.
Reader, 41, seemingly had his dream job. An avid sports fan and former high school football player, Reader directed the Bucs' financial operation for five years.
But, interestingly, Reader said his CFO position lacked the daily decision-making he coveted because of the sheer size and profitability of the NFL.
"I'm proud of what I did there," Reader said. "We changed the department, and got a great team in place. But, in the NFL, with the money coming in from TV revenue, there aren't a whole lot of day-to-day business decisions to make. Although I have a passion for sports, I didn't see myself as a CFO the rest of my life."
Opportunity knocked in the form of Bob Basham, the Co-Founder of Outback Steakhouse. Reader and Basham became acquainted during Reader's days at PwC, where Outback was a client. Basham, who had left his role as Outback’s Chief Operating Officer in 2005, was looking for a new venture. He began MVP Holdings, a private investment firm, and recruited Reader to serve as its Chief Executive Officer.
Reader's initial role was supposed to oversee MVP Holdings’ entire portfolio. That quickly changed to more of a day-to-day managerial role—duties he craved while with the Bucs—with the PDQ brand.
"Originally, we were going to build one or two restaurants, and see how it would go," Reader said. "Fortunately, we had so much success with the first restaurant—and such huge support from the Tampa market—we built some more."
Support for PDQ has grown far beyond Tampa, and very quickly. PDQ, which stands for People Dedicated to Quality—but has been coined “Pretty Darned Quick” by its customers—currently has 55 restaurants in eight U.S. states.
PDQ’s concept is combining the affordability and convenience of fast food with a quality dining experience. PDQ has some fast food characteristics—drive-thru windows, quick service, and low prices—but the quality of the food and the experience in the restaurant are notable. PDQ’s burgers, chicken tenders, sandwiches, and salads are made from scratch every day, and restaurant staff goes the extra mile for customers, including accompanying them to their cars with umbrellas when it’s raining.
What also separates PDQ from its competition is its operation. PDQ doesn’t follow the classic franchise model. Like Outback, it forms development relationships with strategic partners. PDQ manages each of its establishments to maintain brand control, and PDQ’s partners, who build and finance the restaurants, are compensated through PDQ’s revenues.
And the building of those restaurants has created special memories for Reader.
“When I hand the keys to a kid who was making $9 an hour, and is now making six figures as a manager, that’s neat to me,” Reader said.
Much of Reader’s success has come from a dogged work ethic—a trait that he admits was absent when he first came to UF. Reader said his first-semester GPA was 2.67, and he wasn’t applying himself like he should.
Reader attributes his academic turnaround to two things: Melanie transferring to UF and Reader immersing himself in the Fisher School.
“I still can’t believe how much it changed me,” Reader said. “People like Dr. [Doug] Snowball, [PwC Faculty Fellow] Debbie Garvin, they believed in me, and knew how to push you the right way. They took a lot of time and effort with me, and that makes you want to work that much harder to succeed. The Fisher School is very near to my heart.”