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Dairy Queen bringing new format to Lancaster

Think of Dairy Queen and ice cream likely comes to mind.

The company has put a different spin on that image with a "fast casual" restaurant format called DQ Grill & Chill, selling ice cream and menu items like flame-grilled burgers, turkey sandwiches and quesadillas in a fresher setting.

The concept was launched by Dairy Queen several years ago, but it isn't present in New York state. That will change when franchisee Anthony Santiago opens one off Transit Road in the Town of Lancaster, just south of Wehrle Drive.

Santiago, who is a Lancaster resident and has a background in development, said the restaurant will be open by Nov. 30. He has Grill & Chill franchise territory rights in parts of the Northtowns and Southtowns, and has his eye on eventually opening more restaurants.

Dairy Queen launched the Grill & Chill concept six years ago and has about 275 of the quick-service restaurants in the United States and other countries. That number is expected to grow to between 310 and 320 by the end of this year, said Troy Bader, executive vice president of development for American Dairy Queen.

Dairy Queen already has a "Brazier" restaurant concept that sells fast-food items, like burgers, along with ice cream. Grill & Chill represents another step by the company toward diversifying its menu, in a warm environment with features like an open-air grill, Bader said.

"We've been very selective about where we go [with Grill & Chill] and make sure we have the right franchisee and the right mix of locations," he said. Dairy Queen has about a dozen of its traditional locations and Brazier restaurants in Buffalo Niagara.

The Lancaster restaurant will replace a former fireplace store, which will be demolished, Santiago said. Part of the site's appeal to Santiago was what sits behind it: a Regal Cinemas and an adjacent Imax theater, which attract a flow of families.

"It's a great area for our demographics and it's exactly the site we wanted," Santiago said. The restaurant will include a drive-through window and a patio.

James Geiger of Ciminelli Real Estate Corp., who is exclusively representing the Grill & Chill concept, said Dairy Queen thoroughly researched the Lancaster site before agreeing to put a restaurant there. The company sent someone to track daytime and nighttime traffic counts at the location, created a map of nearby office buildings and competing restaurants, and counted the number of seats the competitors had, he said.

The Town of Lancaster planning board approved the project last week, Geiger said.

While Santiago is eager to open his Grill & Chill, published reports say Dairy Queen has faced opposition from some of its franchisees about the concept. The opponents have resisted making the changeover, citing the cost of converting and questioning whether the format would succeed. But other franchisees have embraced the concept as a way to attract new customers.

Dairy Queen is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Corp., as is The Buffalo News.

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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