P. Terry’s founder gives advice about owning small business

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Old ladies often pull up to P. Terry’s burger stand and tell founder Patrick Terry that he and the restaurant make them feel young again, he told communications students Tuesday.

“We try and take you back to the time before Kennedy was assassinated — 1961, ‘62,” Terry said. “I’m not a ’50s guy, it’s too much red and white plastic. But there was this period where architecture mattered and things were real.”

Terry spoke to about 40 students as part of a lecture series for UT’s Communication Week. Organizer Alex Meltzer said the Communication Council thought Terry would have interesting things to say about the business side of running a burger stand.
Terry, a UT alumnus with a background in advertising, said he allows people to interpret the business for themselves rather than let any specific message dictate the way his business is run.

“We just go our own way,” he said. “We do it with confidence but never in your face.”

Terry said he did not advertise when he opened his stand in 2006. He just worked to make a quality product with natural ingredients and listened to his customers. Now there are three locations, and Terry said they plan on opening two more. He is always mindful of keeping the business small enough to where he can still be deeply involved in it, he said.

Terry stressed that students should not feel like everything has to happen at once when pursuing a career.

“I felt that I had to get out there and do something and I had to do it really quick, full force,” he said. “It’s just not true. There’s lots of time.”

Terry said he always wanted to open a hamburger stand and advised students to keep things they have always wanted to do in the back of their minds, even if they are not able to do them right away.

“I was lucky that I started [P. Terry’s] with some money and I wasn’t worried about paying the rent,” he said.

Terry said when the business opened he worked the stand everyday, and he still eats one meal a day there on average.

Communication sciences and disorders graduate student Andre Lindsey said he wanted to learn from a successful small business owner, especially because Austin supports a lot of locally owned businesses.

“Austin as a culture is sort of geared to the unique,” he said.