The Eegee's "brain freeze zone" is moving up Interstate 10.
The company, a homegrown Tucson tradition known for its frozen fruit drinks, has bought a lot in Casa Grande and plans to break ground on a restaurant there in 90 days, said Robert Jensen, director of operations for Eegee's Ajax Distributing division.
The Casa Grande Eegee's is to open in February at 1436 E. Florence Blvd., in an investment of about $1.2 million for the land and building, Eegee's President Tom O'Connor said Wednesday.
And if it does well, the company plans to expand into the Phoenix region, beginning with the Chandler-Gilbert area, after that market stabilizes in the next two years or so, O'Connor said.
"In this economic situation, we'll get Casa Grande open and see what we've got," Jensen said. "If all goes as planned, we'll open stores in Phoenix at a fairly rapid rate."
Eventually, after establishing four or five restaurants in the Phoenix area, at a projected land-and-building cost of about $1.5 million each, O'Connor said he hopes to build a $5 million to $6 million commissary in Phoenix to supply the restaurants there.
It won't be the first time Eegee's, which now has 21 restaurants, all of them in the Tucson area, has tried to expand within Arizona since it was founded in 1971. "Back in the '80s, we opened six stores in Phoenix, but that failed and we closed those," Jensen recalled. A Sierra Vista expansion also didn't work out.
"But we think we have the right combination now," he added. He said O'Connor, whose family's CEO Foods bought the company nearly three years ago, has experience opening restaurants in multiple cities.
"The previous mistake, as they tell it, is they went into all four corners of Phoenix" at once, O'Connor said. They lacked name recognition, and advertising was expensive. By contrast, he plans to expand methodically north into the Valley of the Sun.
In Casa Grande, Eegee's has been "softening the market, letting them know we're coming" for two years, by taking its special-events trailer up to community events and handing out its popular drinks, Jensen said.
O'Connor also thinks the greater Tucson area could support another six Eegee's restaurants, and said he plans to add restaurants here after getting a toehold in the Phoenix area.
On Starnet: How are Eegee's frozen drinks made? View a slide show at www.azstarnet.com/slideshows
Eegee's By the numbers
Amount of frozen fruit drinks produced each month.
Air added to every gallon of liquid lemon product to make 2 gallons of smooth original Eegee's flavor.
Number of blades that shave the freezing Eegee's drinks to give them their smooth consistency.
Temperature at which Eegee's drinks are held. The sugar content keeps them at the right consistency at that temperature without forming ice crystals.
Source: Robert Jensen, director of operations for Eegee's Ajax Distributing