"Honestly, no, we thought we'd significantly grow in our region, but not own the entire company," said Peterson, who has owned an Otter's franchise in Marietta's The Avenue-West Cobb since June 2010. "This opportunity was just icing on the cake."
Otter's Chicken Tenders was founded in Nashville, Tenn., in 2003 by Stuart and Talbott Ottinger, Steve Logan and Charlie Fitzgerald. The fast-casual, sports-themed concept, which focuses on freshly prepared (not frozen) chicken tenders served in a variety of methods, eventually was franchised and expanded to include locations in Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana.
Today, only the Marietta location remains, a strategy that will help Peterson remold the brand from the ground up. In the short term, Peterson plans to open 10 company stores throughout Georgia, Alabama and Florida. He said a second location would open in the Kennesaw area near Kennesaw State University sometime in 2014.
"We were the most successful unit in the Otter's chain, and we felt we were in a real position to take advantage of the buyout," said Peterson, president and CEO. "With rights to the whole company, we can now control every aspect of the brand. Our strategy is to develop successfully internally, and then grow from there."
Peterson said the strategy could involve growing its catering business and eventually serving as a franchisor. "At some point, we'd like to expand from within. We have great employees working at Otter's, and some of them have expressed interest in wanting to start their own Otter's in the future."
Another staple of Otter's branding will be its continual support of the local community, especially local school and sports programs, and church activities. "That has always been a big part of who we are and what we do," said Peterson, the former operations manager for Logi-Trans Express who followed his dream of opening a restaurant.
For example, the Otter's West Cobb location houses a board that highlights one player from each local high school as its "Otter's Chicken Player of the Week." The honorees are rewarded with a meal of their choice that week, on the house. And teachers always get free drinks.
To help out during the recent economic woes, Otter's discourages its patrons from leaving a tip.
"In these tough times, we know everyone's wallets are a little light," Peterson said. "You are never expected to leave a tip. As a matter of fact, we have a policy against it."
To continue to grow the brand during this new venture, Peterson understands that customers are the true barometers of success. "The best thing about working in the restaurant business is getting to know the customers. We have a very loyal customer base. We have a fun staff, so work doesn't always seem like work."