Applebee's looking at Betsy

Photo By Kristen Luther
According to city officials, Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar could be the first restaurant to come to Elizabethton following the passage of liquor-by-the-drink.

By Thomas Wilson
star staff

  One day after Elizabethton residents voted in favor of legalizing liquor-by-the-drink, local officials have confirmed a national restaurant chain has contacted the city about opening an establishment in the city by early next year.
  Representatives of Applebee's International, Inc. that franchises the Applebee's Neighborhood Grill & Bar restaurant have contacted Elizabethton city government officials about possibly opening an establishment in town by early next year. City Director of Planning and Development David Ornduff confirmed on Wednesday the company's contact with the city. He said the restaurant developer initially contacted the city prior to the liquor-by-the-drink referendum's placement on the city election ballot.
  "The contact was made with city staff prior to the vote on liquor-by-the-drink," Ornduff said, "which was not a factor to whether they would locate in the city or not. They based their decision on demographics, not alcoholic beverages."
  Ornduff said the company indicated potential sites are being examined, but he declined to identify a specific location for the potential development. He also said the company indicated they had the Elizabethton location on the fast track for development.
  "I think they are interested in moving fast," he said.
  Applebee's Neighborhood Grill and Bar locations presently operate in Johnson City, Kingsport, Greeneville, Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va. The restaurants maintain bar service for the on-premises sale of mixed drinks where liquor-by-the-drink is legal.
  A spokesman with Applebee's communications department in Overland Park said Tuesday that the company's current new restaurant location report did not include Elizabethton. He said the report did not list the city because no property site has been approved for development thus far.
  Applebee's may not be alone in their interest in Elizabethton. Ornduff said other restaurant chains have contacted the city in recent months.
  "We've had a number of different restaurants (express interest) within the past year," he said.
  Ornduff said restaurants are currently regulated under the city's arterial business zone.
  The city's zoning ordinance presently sets a minimum distance of 220 feet for the on-premises sale of beer at restaurants or off-premises
  With headquarters in Overland Park, Kan., Applebee's International reported 1,633 Applebee's restaurants operating system-wide in 49 states and nine international countries as of September 2004.
  In a financial forecast conference held Sept. 9, the company's chief financial officer said the company continues to expect annual earnings per share growth of 14 to 17 percent over the next three to five years beginning in 2005. The company reported the ultimate domestic growth of the Applebee's system could be at least 3,000 units - a 30 percent increase from the potential believed to have existed a little over two years ago. For the next three to five years beginning in fiscal year 2005, the company expects restaurant unit growth to continue at between 7 and 8 percent annually with comparable sales expected to increase annually by at least 3 to 4 percent.
  According to the company's Web site, Applebee's was founded in Atlanta by Bill and T.J. Palmer. The Palmers opened their first restaurant as T.J. Applebee's Rx for Edibles & Elixirs in November 1980.
  The company reports that that Applebee's system is approximately 75 percent franchised and 25 percent company-owned. There are 48 domestic Applebee's franchisees. The company reports opening 100 or more new restaurants each year between 1993 to 2003.