Money doesn’t seem to trouble Tim Gannon. Not today. But once upon a time, the Palm Beacher had $37 to his name.
It was 1988, and Gannon had exhausted his bank account after spending 12 years both cooking and managing in the New Orleans restaurant industry. Though he loved learning about food, he sometimes felt the industry was on top of him – at one of his restaurants, he even wrote a check from his personal bank account to cover his employees’ salaries for a week.
So he left and traveled to Tampa, arriving at the home of his friend, Bob Basham. “I had no options,” he admits. “When you have no options you either fail miserably or have wild success.”
But his life was about to change drastically.
Teaming up with Basham and Chris Sullivan, two old friends from his days managing Steak & Ale, Gannon started working on a new concept. He lived for months in Basham’s house, working out of his kitchen on a menu for a new restaurant.
Inspired by a Japanese technique of cutting vegetables into the shape of a flower, Gannon added New Orleans spices and created the original Bloomin’ Onion. He felt it was a perfect recipe, as timeless as Heinz Tomato Ketchup or Coca-Cola. “I honestly felt that if you create something with such great flavor, it will travel the world,” he says.
He was right. The food Gannon spent months preparing would shape the menu at the first Outback Steakhouse, opening later that year in a small, run-down, Tampa shopping center. The location was not ideal, but people talked about the flavorful dishes and $9.95 steaks. Soon, lines formed.
Gannon always wanted people to say, “I know that guy” when he entered a room. With Outback, it happened. The restaurant would eventually grow into a chain with 1,400 locations across 22 countries. Today, people turn their heads when he walks into a restaurant convention.
Now 65, he is in charge of the South Florida expansion of PDQ, the fast-food chain created by his old friend, Basham. PDQ, which stands for both “people dedicated to quality” and “pretty darn quick,” is fast food sans freezers and microwaves, everything made in-house with fresh ingredients in a clean environment.
Despite his successes, Gannon never forgets his humble past. Sitting in a booth at the chain’s West Palm location today, he’s dressed modestly, wearing a red PDQ polo shirt and khakis. His sunglasses don’t have an obvious designer logo. While he is proud to say he lives in Palm Beach, he’s even prouder to say he’s a self-made man.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Gannon was the youngest of six. His mother and five siblings shared three bedrooms and two bathrooms. The close quarters taught him the art of negotiating, even if it was just to use the bathroom. He worked tirelessly as a teenager, manning a newspaper route and parking cars at Mai-Kai Restaurant.
He had dreams of playing polo but always felt it was a sport reserved for the wealthy. At 41, he finally played his first game. He’d compete for 20 years and win five U.S. Opens.
Despite so much success, Gannon has no intention of taking his foot off the gas. “‘Relaxing’ is one of the most distasteful words I know,” he says. He plans to open as many PDQs as possible, already with two locations opened in the Fort Lauderdale area.
He insists his drive isn’t overkill – why win one U.S. Open when you can win five? “I don’t call it overdoing it… I call it winning so many times no one can say you’re lucky – you really are a winner,” he explains.
And with the Bloomin’ Onion that started it all approaching $1 billion in sales, it’s safe to say Gannon is a winner.