DQ Execs Talk Expansion, Rivals and Popeyes Boffo Debut
Julie Davis, left, and Jennifer Rude are pushing Dairy Queen franchises in Chicago, a return to the state where DQ started back in 1938.
“We are making a big push into Chicago. There’s a lot of room to grow,” said Julie Davis, director of franchise sales and development for Dairy Queen, who was in town this week to meet with prospective franchisees along with DQ’s area franchise developer Jennifer Rude.
Davis noted the stiff competition for legacy brands in the QSR space—for real estate, prospective operators and customers alike—and when I learned she used to work for Dunkin’ and before that Popeyes, in the early 2000s, I had to ask: What did she think of Popeyes new chicken sandwich?
“It makes me laugh,” she said, noting she’s still in touch with a Popeyes alumni group and they’ve all been chattering about the sandwich debut August 12. People at Popeyes had been saying for years, “We need to come out with a sandwich, we need to come out with a sandwich, and it was staunch,” Davis said, meaning the response from corporate was adamantly against the idea. “We’re not a sandwich company,” was the repeated line from the company.
But then RBI, "a sandwich company," as Davis noted (they also own Burger King) bought Popeyes and launched the sandwich to pandemonium in mid-August. Social media buzz was so intense that Popeyes announced August 27 it was completely sold out, a week and a half in to the promotion.
“It’s breaking the internet. It is so funny,” Davis said, without a trace of bitterness in her voice. The head of R&D at Popeyes when Davis was there is still around, she said, so Davis is glad that person has the satisfaction of finally getting the sandwich launched.
Rude noted the push into Illinois is a return for the brand; the first Dairy Queen store opened in 1940 in Joliet, she said, and the first soft serve ice cream that became a Dairy Queen staple debuted in 1938 in Kankakee.
This time around they are pushing DQ Grill & Chill franchises, the 20-year-old prototype that fits into 2,600 square feet, emphasizes food along with the treats and must feature a drive-thru for optimal franchisee success. Cost of investment is $1.4 million.
“There’s an opportunity to open 30 to 50 Grill & Chills but we would do that at a reasonable pace,” Davis said about the brand’s plans in Chicagoland, adding they are not yet ready to identify their new franchisees in the area but expect to be able to do so soon.