Dairy Queen, the quarter-century-old fast food restaurant known mostly for its desserts, plans to expand in South Carolina in a big way, including metropolitan Columbia.
The Minnesota-based business has begun recruiting franchisors to open 75 stand-alone restaurants in the Palmetto State in coming years – up to 15 of those in the Columbia area, company executives said Monday.
The first of the new Columbia restaurants could open late this year or in early 2017, according to Jim Kerr, vice president of franchise development for International Dairy Queen Inc.
Internal analytics used by the company to help it plan and prioritize new markets show South Carolina to be an “ideal” location for Dairy Queen customers, Kerr said.
“We’ve identified the state of South Carolina as one of our targeted areas for new store growth,” he said. “When I look at the entire state, we have 75-plus new store opportunities – all DQ Grill & Chill locations for the state.”
New stores are being targeted for all of the state’s major metropolitan areas, including Greenville-Spartanburg, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and the Capital City. Dairy Queen recently opened new stand-alone Grill & Chill restaurants in Goose Creek and Hilton Head, Kerr said, and plans to open a new store later this year in Florence.
“Columbia is one of the key markets within South Carolina we have not been able to penetrate yet,” Kerr said.
Dairy Queen currently has three older-modeled “treat centers” in the greater Columbia area, primarily small ice cream and dessert locations ensconced with other restaurants in fuel centers.
The company is turning to its DQ Grill & Chill concept more because it emphasizes both the company’s heritage treat menu and its food and beverage menus, including its $5 Buck Lunch offering and new line of products called DQ Bakes, which are artisan-styled sandwiches, snack melts and hot desserts a la mode.
Traditional Dairy Queen customers may best remember the restaurant for its sundaes, banana splits, and classic cheeseburgers, fries and drinks.
The stand-alone DQ Grill & Chill restaurant concept generally encompasses 30,000 square feet of lot space with at least 35 parking spaces. Each restaurant ranges from 2,600 to 3,000 square feet and generally employs 50 to 100 employees, according to Kerr.
Dairy Queen is looking to recruit probably two big operators in the Columbia area that are capable of opening, managing and operating multiple franchise locations throughout the metropolitan area, Kerr said, though single operators may also be recruited.
The company has identified 12 to 15 “quality” locations in the area to build stand-alone DQ Grill & Chill restaurants, said Kerr, who has been with the company eight years.
Individuals looking to open a DQ Grill & Chill restaurant should have a net worth of $400,000 for a single operation, the company said, and approximately $2 million to open a group of four to five restaurants. The investment for a DQ Grill & Chill ranges from $1.07 million to $1.83 million, without the cost of leasing or purchasing land, Kerr said.
Dairy Queen assists the franchisor in identifying the most optimal trade area locally, and provides significant support through design, site layout, and store opening, then in operations and marketing, Kerr said.
The DQ Grill & Chill restaurants are traditional quick service restaurants that feature dine-in, take-out at the counter and drive-through service to customers. They are designed to compete with restaurants such as Chick-fil-A, Kerr said. Additional information about franchising with Dairy Queen is available at www.dq.com, under its “Franchise with us” section.
Dairy Queen generally opens about 85 new stores a year, Kerr said, and operates 6,700 stores worldwide.
Roddie Burris: 803-771-8398