Outback Entrepreneur Finds His Culinary “Velcro”

Tim Gannon invented that calorie-laden fried delicacy known as Outback Steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion.

If he did nothing else, he would be known for that.

But this year, he embarked on a new venture, opening PDQ , a fast-food concept based on the chicken tender, in West Palm Beach.

But it was a different P-word that got him started.

“One of the things that motivated me in this industry and made me successful was my zest and desire to play polo,” says Mr. Gannon, CEO of Palm Beach PDQ. “The greatest thing about the sport of polo is that it is the oldest team sport in the world. What I learned from polo, I was able to bring to the restaurant business, where teamwork is essential.”

Mr. Gannon, the youngest of six siblings, grew up in Fort Lauderdale, where he says he worked as a paperboy and parked cars to put a shirt on his back. However, at the age of 16, Mr. Gannon was introduced to the sport of polo, a game he says mesmerized him, but also cost a lot of money. Mr. Gannon says that he knew he needed to create something spectacular to play the sport with which he fell in love.

“I wanted to be like the guy who created Velcro and make a lot of money,” he says. “I worked hard to make sure that day would come.”

Mr. Gannon, a 1970 graduate of Florida State University, majored in art history and became a Renaissance specialist. Though he spent most of his undergraduate studies in Italy, when he returned to the states, he says he was disappointed to learn that jobs were limited.

While Florida was the only place he knew, Mr. Gannon move to Colorado, where the snow top mountains glistened and the weather was far from 90 degrees and sunny. Learning to ski in his free time and cooking at the Aspen Institute consumed his life, and it was then that his passion for the culinary industry sparked and his talent for distinguishing different flavors had begun.

“We made everything from scratch and I really learned about the quality of food,” he says. “While working in the culinary industry, I became a ‘flavorist.’ Creating flavor and understanding flavor was most important.”

Mr. Gannon continued his culinary exploration at The Four Seasons hotel, Steak and Ale and Al Copeland’s Cajun Café in New Orleans. It was in 1988 that he co-founded Outback Steakhouse and created what would be considered his “Velcro,” otherwise known as the Bloomin’ Onion.

“Bob Basham, Chris Sullivan, Trudy Cooper and I were a team and we each brought different qualities to the table to make Outback Steakhouse successful.”

More than 1,200 Outback Steakhouses later, the Bloomin’ Onion has generated more than $1 billion in sales, enough to enable Mr. Gannon to become, at age 41, the polo player he had dreamed of being.

Mr. Gannon, a chef, a polo player and entrepreneur, has not only received awards for his entrepreneurship, but he also was inducted into the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame after winning three U.S. Open Polo Championships.

Although Mr. Gannon’s passion for polo had finally become a reality, he says that the culinary industry and serving people quality food was still important to him.

“Being in this industry lifts me up and gives me a sense of well-being,” he says.

That brings him to PDQ.

In 2011, Bob Basham, co-founder of Outback Steakhouse and 25-year partner to Mr. Gannon and CEO Nick Reader, perfected the concept of PDQ in Tampa. PDQ , an acronym for “People Dedicated to Quality” or “Pretty Darn Quick” emphasizes fresh and quality food served fast.

Mr. Gannon says that he quickly embraced the PDQ concept and is not only focusing on expanding throughout South Florida, but also focusing on flavor and menu development.

“PDQ is the type of place where once you order, not only is it in our computer system, but it is already made and ready to go,” says Chris Gannon, Mr. Gannon’s son and active manager at the West Palm Beach location.

PDQ offers dine-in seating and a drive-through, as well as catering, which showcases the concept that everything is made from scratch with the best ingredients and flavors.

“We’re serving anywhere from 600 to 900 customers for lunch,” says Mr. Gannon.

If you ask Mr. Gannon what his favorite choice on the menu is, he says he truly enjoys the fresh apple slices with toffee dip; however, according to his son, the chicken tenders and the crispy turkey are fan favorites.

With plans to continue to expand the PDQ concept, Mr. Gannon says that he not only hopes to improve economic development by creating more jobs, but he also says that he feels strongly about community involvement. Mr. Gannon has partnered with WPTV’s Impact 5 for Autism, as well as sponsoring The South Florida Sailfish youth baseball team, and The Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County.

“I really believe that life is about self accomplishment,” says Mr. Gannon. “It’s important to be able to create things like jobs and menu items and to be able to sit down with a team to help you execute your dream.”

> Name: Tim Gannon

> Age: 64

> Original hometown: Fort Lauderdale

> What is your guilty culinary pleasure? “I love the scrambled eggs and caviar from Chez Jean Pierre. It is wonderful, creative and fun. I also love a special peanut butter and jelly sandwich, lobster sandwiches from South Hampton, a fried oyster sandwich. Oh, I like all kinds of things.”

> What advice would you give someone who wants to be a chef or restaurateur? “Every great restaurant has a perfect balance of the customer’s needs which includes flavor, price, taste, and service. Then you have to blend in the employees experience and make them happy by providing a great working environment that is fun and electrifying. You also need to make the economics make sense to the point where you see a return. I think that it is important to tie these elements together to create your formula for success.”

Originally Published in Florida Weekly Newspaper. 

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