Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

ZS Pharma founder recalls early days in Fort Worth

Al Guillem, president of ZS Pharma, returned to Fort Worth last week to share the story of his journey from biotech startup to billion-dollar public company, and gave a nod to his deep roots in Cowtown.

The Coppell-based company, which is developing a drug to treat hyperkalemia and remove excess potassium from the bloodstream, is the most successful graduate of Tech Fort Worth, the business incubator south of downtown. Last year, ZS Pharma raised more than $100 million in a public offering, and its market cap now exceeds $1 billion.

Speaking at a Tech Fort Worth awards luncheon, Guillem recalled how he was lured to move the fledgling company from Indiana to Fort Worth by Darlene Boudreaux, Tech Fort Worth’s executive director, who was a competitor of his in a former life.

In the early 2000s, Guillem was working for Fort Worth’s Adams Laboratories and Boudreaux was running PharmaFab, a fast-growing drug manufacturer in Grand Prairie. The two companies ended up on opposite sides of a controversy involving an expectorant called guaifenesin.

PharmaFab was one of more than 60 companies manufacturing expectorant products at the time when Adams won exclusive rights from the Food and Drug Administration to produce the cold medication after running new safety tests on the 20-year-old drug and convincing the FDA to redefine it as a new drug.

Adams would go on to introduce the over-the-counter medication Mucinex, go public and eventually be sold in 2008. PharmaFab, which produced many other drugs, was also sold and Boudreaux would take the reins at Tech Fort Worth in 2006.

Guillem, now president of ZS Pharma, said the company was in the early stages in West Lafayette, Ind., when it decided to come to Fort Worth and work with Boudreaux.

“I’m not sure how much love there was between us at the time, but we knew she was now at an incubator and it was good to have a pharma executive we would work with,” Guillem said.

Boudreaux says Guillem and co-founder Jeff Keyser, another former Adams Laboratories exec, were attracted to Fort Worth by the incubator’s relationship with the University of North Texas Health Science Center and the possibility of securing funding through the state Emerging Technologies Fund. ZS Pharma would indeed land state funds.

Currently, ZS Pharma has about 70 employees working in 26,000 square feet in Coppell. Guillem said the company will expand to 100,000 square feet, and companywide employment is expected to grow from about 140 this year to between 300 and 400.

Dairy Queen lands in Pantego

The state’s largest Dairy Queen franchisee is taking a chance with a store at the busy intersection of Park Row Drive and Bowen Road in Pantego.

Vasari Llc. opened doors Saturdayto Dairy Queen’s newest Grill & Chill concept at 2424 W. Park Row Drive. Expect traffic to be heavy for the first few weeks, says Ken Ward, Vasari’s vice president of operations.

Several concepts have operated at the corner, most recently Del Taco. But it has been shuttered for several months, and before Del Taco the building sat vacant for several years. At one time, Burger Street and Fabulous 50s occupied the site.

Vasari, based in Irving, has done extensive renovations and leased an adjacent parking lot. About 90 employees have been hired for the store.

The 2,680-square-foot restaurant will seat 52 guests inside with a patio outside. It will feature Dairy Queen’s newest char-broiler system for cooking burgers, Ward said.

Ward said the company — the second-largest Dairy Queen operator in the U.S. with 76 locations — likes the traffic counts at the corner and being close to several schools.

Eight months ago, Vasari opened a location on Rufe Snow Drive in North Richland Hills that Ward says is very similar to the Pantego location. The North Richland Hills store has become one of its busiest. They’re expecting the same for the Pantego site, he said.

“We feel very confident in our site selection,” Ward said.

Vasari is also opening stores in Terrell and Corsicana, and early next year in Benbrook and Lake Worth.

The Pantego Dairy Queen will operate from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

US Airways airport signs to disappear in October

A little more of US Airways will be going away this fall.

When American Airlines migrates US Airways’ passenger reservation system to its own in October, the company plans to replace US Airways signs at airports with American branding.

“In October you will see every US Airways sign come down and everything will be American Airlines, and US Airways will basically go away in the October timeframe,” said American Chief Financial Officer Derek Kerr, speaking at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch Transportation conference on Thursday. “We haven’t set the date. We’ve set the month but there is a lot of planning around that.”’

So far, American and US Airways have co-located operations at 114 airports. However, the airlines still operate out of two different terminals at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

October won’t be the end for US Airways because US Airways planes will still be seen in the skies. It will take American until the fourth quarter of 2017 to repaint all of the US Airways planes and its older American planes with the new livery that was unveiled in 2013.

Andrea Ahles, 817-390-7631

Twitter: @Sky_Talk

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

Steve Kaskovich, 817-390-7773

Twitter: @stevekasko