The Duncan Banner

August 19, 2012

It’s about the neighborhood

Ed Darling
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Paul Tauscher has been linked to the Applebee’s brand for nearly two decades. He has participated in 90 or so ribbon cuttings. But he had never attended a ground breaking.

Until last week. In Duncan.

Vice president and director of operations for Concord Hospitality, the successful Nebraska-based company with rights to the Oklahoma market, he joined Applebee’s executives Jody Murray, who oversees state Concord operations out of Ada, John McKinney, who will move here soon as general manager of the local restaurant, city officials and chamber leaders under a warm morning last week to officially launch construction of the new restaurant that will open here in November.

He liked it.

He liked it so much he told those in the crowd he and his associates have been humbled by Duncan’s support and hospitality, adding “we’ve felt like rock stars.”

That’s a good thing. It is the type of business friendly spirit needed for a community to survive in a sometimes difficult economy. It is the attitude needed to invite, to court and to welcome new businesses to town. And it is the frame of mind important to continue with businesses already here.

But when a high ranking official for a company whose reputation is based on hospitality tells you he liked what he saw and was impressed by what he felt, that’s a message not to be ignored.

Ground breaking ceremonies, he said, convinced him even more the decision to select Duncan was a good one and the sense of community already here matches the “being part of the neighborhood” concept so important to his company’s operation.

If he approached being almost giddy in his appraisal, he was as close to gushing in his praise for Chris Deal, president of the Duncan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a key cog in critical decisions that paved the path here.

“He’s one of the most helpful people with whom I’ve ever worked,” Tauscher said. “He was always polite, gracious and cooperative. He has been service minded and business friendly since our first meeting, so whenever I think of our Duncan restaurant, I’ll think of Chris.”

Other factors in the selection process were important, too.

He called Duncan a strategic site, explaining other Concord Applebee’s restaurants are already open in Ada, Altus, Ardmore and Lawton. Solid demographics remain positive here, he said. The community’s 25,000-population size fits Concord’s profile for success. Lack of casual dining competition was a plus. And the “phenomenal” traffic count on U.S. Highway 81 is impressive.

Concord founder Larry Bird had targeted Duncan earlier. All pieces of the puzzle didn’t fit then.

“I’ll never forget last February,” Tauscher said. “It was one of my first visits. Chris and I were sitting in a car on site, discussing options and possibilities. All the time we were talking, I kept watching the traffic go by. It was just incredible. We’re really pleased.”

A grand opening in November is planned.

“We want to be a neighborhood grill and bar,” he explained. “You can’t do that without a neighborhood, but after meeting the folks at our ground breaking, there is no doubt the neighborhood is already there.”

He says business meeting lunches, retirees lingering after a meal, afternoon coffee gatherings, wireless communication visits, post-golf beers and appetizers, football game viewing, ladies night out functions and late night happy hours expand lunch and dinner occasions.

Some restaurants have developed trivia and karaoke activities.

“All restaurants,” Tauscher continued, “develop their own personalities. Our options are unlimited. It will be fun to see what happens in Duncan.”

Online applications on the Concord web-site will be accepted soon. Some positions will be filled early, but six weeks before opening, interviews will be conducted here, probably at the adjacent Holiday Inn Express. Ten days before opening, new staff members will be trained by a corporate team.

Tauscher, who pushes McKinney and Murray as the “faces of Applebee’s and the people you’ll get to know,” expects the restaurant will earn and maintain a position of respect and success within the community.

“Competitors,” he said, “sometimes follow. We’re the largest casual dining concept in the world, so places like Buffalo Wings and Olive Garden occasionally join us. Sometimes we remain the only game in town. Every community and every market is different, so you never know.

“We’ll just operate along the lines of what we think is important and right. It’s all about the neighborhood. And we’re excited about coming to Duncan.”

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