Tijuana Flats founder launches what he hopes would be the Elevating Cane’s of Tex-Mex
When Brian Wheeler based the fast-casual Tijuana Flats idea in 1995, he was about 25 years outdated. He knew subsequent to nothing about beginning a restaurant, however his father loaned him some cash, and the idea labored. Tijuana Flats grew to 140 items earlier than Wheeler bought it to a private-equity agency in 2015.
Now Wheeler’s oldest son Jake Wheeler is round 25 and you would say the circle is coming round once more.
The daddy and son this week launched a brand new idea collectively known as Massive Taco, which opened in Casselberry, Fla.
Like Tijuana Flats, Massive Taco is a fast-casual Tex-Mex idea, nevertheless it’s one thing fully completely different—partly as a result of Tijuana Flats modified significantly after he bought it, Brian stated.
“Once I have a look at the panorama of Tex-Mex, together with the corporate I bought, I imagine most of them over-engineer their meals,” stated Brian, noting that his non-compete settlement expired years in the past. “They’ve gone away from what, to me, is the very best half about Tex-Mex and quick informal. It’s simply being quite simple.”
Massive Taco, for instance, provides tacos with laborious corn or tender flour tortillas with a alternative of beef, pork, rooster, steak or beans. No descriptors to navigate like “al pastor” or “carne asada.”
Burritos, enchiladas and nachos are equally easy—and right here the burritos are grilled, which is one thing Tijuana Flats additionally did within the early days, however stopped doing after Wheeler bought it.
There are just a few “specialties,” like a chili-smothered burrito; a Texas chili bowl; crispy Kickin’ Hen in a burrito or taco; and a spinach-and-artichoke quesadilla. Costs are usually round $7.95 (for 2 nine-inch beef tacos), and the menu consists of craft beers in bottles and cans.
Although friends order on the counter at Massive Taco, it’s not a walk-the-makeline idea like Chipotle. The Wheelers describe it as a “service-first” mannequin. A greeter opens the doorways as diners arrive, for instance. Meals is run to tables and staffers clear plates and get refills on drinks.
The panorama of Tex-Mex and taco ideas has grown significantly since 1995, when Tijuana Flats was born. However Brian stated, “There are by no means sufficient Tex-Mex eating places, identical to there are by no means sufficient pizza joints or Chinese language eating places … In case you serve an ideal product and handle your friends and supply an ideal expertise, any idea may be profitable.”
Jake factors to ideas like In-N-Out Burger and Elevating Cane’s, restaurant chains that function with a quite simple and centered menu which are embraced by his era.
“They each simply supply quite simple, simple meals and nice service,” stated Jake. “And it’s very constant.”
Brian is initially from Louisiana and his youthful son Gavin additionally plans to affix in Massive Taco after he graduates from Louisiana State College in Baton Rouge, which can also be dwelling to the primary Elevating Cane’s.
“There was an indication exterior that Elevating Cane’s location for his or her twenty fifth anniversary that stated, ‘25 years of not altering issues that aren’t damaged,’” stated Jake. “I feel that’s mannequin to go by.”
Brian began Tijuana Flats with little restaurant expertise, however early on he was joined by trade veteran Camp Fitch, the previous president of S&A Corp., which was guardian to Steak & Ale and different manufacturers. Brian’s father, Chester Wheeler, additionally left his place as CEO of a Fortune 500 firm to function Tijuana Flats’ CFO.
In contrast to their father, Jake and brother Gavin are coming into the restaurant trade with loads of their very own expertise below their belts.
After promoting Tijuana Flats, Brian went on to create Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen, a now three-unit full-service idea that he stated is doing nicely. The 2 sons have grown up working in these eating places.
However, somewhat than develop Tibby’s, a way more difficult mannequin, the Wheelers determined to maneuver ahead with one thing simpler to function. Tibby’s areas, for instance, require about 240 folks to employees, the place Massive Taco would require about 35.
Tijuana Flats grew with the assistance of franchising, however Brian stated that didn’t all the time go so nicely.
“We struggled with franchising a bit,” he stated. “We tried to regulate as a lot as we may, however finally we pulled the plug on the franchising deal and we ended up shopping for again plenty of our franchises.”
Now the Wheelers say they aren’t positive about whether or not they are going to franchise Massive Taco.
Jake is eager to get the idea going to develop, as Tijuana Flats did, and he contends the easier mannequin would additionally translate higher as a franchised model.
“I wish to get this factor shifting and have the expansion of Tijuana Flats and the dimensions of it. However he all the time preaches to me that we’ve got to take it one location at a time, one visitor at a time,” stated Jake of his father.
“If we will get this factor to the place we predict it has legs and actually wish to develop it, then we’ll go after it,” stated Brian.
However, the daddy added, “If this finally ends up being a small little taco place that I work with my two boys in, that works out nicely too.”
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