DQ Grill & Chill is nearly ready for its debut at Ballantrae Village Shoppes. By mid-March, franchise owner Carlos Saenz plans to host a grand opening.
Meanwhile, Saenz has had to watch hopeful customers slowly steer their vehicles into the drive-through lane on a daily basis.
It’s disappointing not to at least have a Blizzard or an ice cream cone to hand out, said Saenz.
But, he isn’t surprised at the response from people eager to try a new restaurant.
DQ Grill & Chill is located at 17826 Aprile Drive, off Ballantrae Boulevard and State Road 54.
More than 50,000 vehicles travel up and down the state road. Ballantrae Village Shoppes sits at the entrance to the master-planned community of Ballantrae, north of U.S. 41.
Further north, Bexley Ranch and Asturia are among new subdivisions populating the state highway. To the south, Long Lake Ranch homes are for sale. More retail and commercial are popping up where cows once grazed.
At Ballantrae Village, Circle K is nearly built. In addition to Dairy Queen, the approximately 17,000-square-foot shopping plaza will have T-Mobile, Taco Bell and Dunkin’ Donuts. Other parcels are available.
The activity up and down State Road 54 is a prime reason that Saenz, and his wife Pam, took a deep dive into a new venture – as fast-food restaurant owners.
“We think we’re in a great spot,” said Saenz. “Three years ago, this area was probably a five or six (on a scale of 10). I think we’re at a nine or 10, with the amount of homes and traffic.”
The Saenz’s live in the Oakstead subdivision with their 14-year-old daughter, Madison. Pam Saenz is a Pasco County teacher.
Carlos Saenz is stepping away from a long career in the insurance industry to open his first Dairy Queen. A second franchise in Hudson is possible.
When Saenz researched restaurant franchises, he zeroed in on Dairy Queen for a personal reason. He grew up in Puerto Rico, but as a middle school student moved to Kissimmee, Florida.
His first fast-food meal was at a Dairy Queen on U.S. 192. “It’s still there,” Saenz said.
He feels many others also feel nostalgic about a restaurant that began in 1940. Back then, it sold burgers, hot dogs, fries, Peanut Buster parfaits, Dilly bars and ice cream cones.
Dairy Queen celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2015. The company boasts of more than 1,560 DQ Grill & Chill restaurants in 46 states.
Saenz said Dairy Queen, in recent years, has kept its traditional menu items, but also modernized to keep up with the times. The DQ Grill & Chill concept started nearly two decades ago.
The old favorites are still there, but chicken strip baskets and sandwiches and honey-flavored barbecue have been added. DQ rotates some items in and out, including a recent Kansas-style pork sandwich on pretzel bread and a Philly cheesesteak.
Customers are now described as “fans.”
Dairy Queen supports community-based charitable events. Saenz said the company supports a national campaign to collect donations for the Miracle Children’s Network. However, money collected locally stays in the community, he said.
He anticipates sponsoring special “spirit night” events for area schools, with a portion of proceeds benefiting each school.
A grassy area near the outdoor patio could be gated off as a kind of dog park. Saenz said he expects foot traffic from nearby Ballantrae homes, and people will want to bring their pets.
“We’re going to be partners with the community and engaging with schools,” Saenz said.
Published March 1, 2017