The fast food burger market in Texas is crowded. In addition to the big chains—McDonald’s is as ubiquitous here as it is across the globe—our state is the proud home of Whataburger, which inspires a fierce loyalty rivaled only by the way Californians feel about In-N-Out Burger. Of course, we’ve got that chain, too, as the restaurant decided to expand into Texas over the past decade (just like the rest of the Californians). Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin all have outposts of the booming New York-based Shake Shack; there are still endless mom-and-pop spots to get a burger. Yet even in this crowded marketplace, Austin’s P. Terry’s managed to establish a niche.
That niche could soon become an empire. Patrick Terry—the namesake of the restaurant that grew from a walk-up/drive-thru hamburger stand in 2005 to having more than a dozen locations throughout the city—stepped down as CEO of the company this week, making room for new leadership. In his place comes Todd Coerver, a fast food guru whose executive experience involves long stints at both Taco Cabana, where he was chief brand and chief operating officer, and Whataburger, where he was vice president of marketing and innovation.
Coerver comes to P. Terry’s as the chain looks to expand. Last year, the company announced that it would break ground outside of Austin for the first time with a San Marcos location, which should open in May 2019. By the end of 2020, the company plans to have at least 20 locations throughout Central Texas. (The company also opened two outposts of Taco Ranch, a companion taco joint with a menu inspired by the early days of Taco Bell, in 2017 and 2018.) P. Terry’s plans go beyond Central Texas, too; as part of the new regime, the company announced a Houston location for the first time, with a projected two-year window for that store’s opening.
If that holds true, P. Terry’s will follow an expansion model more like Shake Shack than Whataburger. The fast food game has changed considerably since the days when Whataburger commissioned its first A-frames in the early 1960s; by the time Whataburger had as many stores as P. Terry’s will this summer, it had expanded from Corpus Christi to Odessa, covering more than 500 miles of Texas ground. (The P. Terry’s map will stretch more like 35 miles from Austin to San Marcos.) New York-based Shake Shack was a local sensation before heading further afield: it had six locations in its hometown before opening a regional store in Saratoga Springs, then expanding to Miami, Washington D.C., and abroad in 2010 and 2011. Today, there are more than 200 Shake Shacks around the world.
P. Terry’s is well-positioned to make an aggressive push. It quickly became integrated into the fabric of Austin life, and it has strived to make an impression on visitors, too (last summer, it opened a drive-thru only store encountered by anyone driving from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport into the city). Maybe they can find that same success in Houston—and after that, perhaps, the world.