Randy, a self-proclaimed foodie, saw a need for fresh, authentic Mexican food in his neighborhood, and seized the opportunity to make his taco dreams a reality. After successfully launching in Canada with the help of Michael and his brothers, Randy and Michael officially teamed up to take the business in a new direction.
The duo shares with us how their passion and commitment to brand authenticity has helped grow their taco empire from the first location in Newport Beach, California in 2002 to over 50 locations across the United States, Canada, and Japan.
Despite not having an extensive background in restaurants, Randy saw a need for a fast casual spot with great Mexican food, and leapt at the opportunity.
It wasn’t until a promising write up in the Orange County Register praising the quality of the food that Randy saw lines sprawling out the door and around the corner. That’s when it all clicked: this could be something.
When the team decided to franchise to family and friends, they opened up approximately 10-12 stores the first year. From a strategic viewpoint, Michael saw the growth of Chronic Tacos as an opportunity to begin streamlining their operations.
“We needed to systematize things and bring in operations manuals and get the brand more focused for expansion without losing the foundation of the brand and what makes it unique,” he says.
With such a fast growing brand, it is critical for Randy and Michael to quickly train up staff and instill the “Taco-Life” ethos as part of training.Through proper manual documentation, training programs, and transparency around career advancement opportunities, Chronic Tacos was able to reduce staff turnover and promote from within.
As we all know, it's a tough market for restaurant hiring managers these days. Working in a restaurant is tough stuff, and it can be incredibly hard to both stand out to prospective staff members and convince them that working in a restaurant is a gainful employment opportunity.
“We’re competing now with easier jobs in a way; working in a restaurant is a grind," Michael says. "You could get a job working 8 hours a day selling vapes behind a register. So you want the job to be inspiring and offer upward mobility”.
Soliciting and listening to guest feedback is incredibly important for businesses – specifically restaurants – because it means the difference between losing a diner and getting bad word-of-mouth reviews, or gaining a new brand promoter. Chronic Tacos takes extreme care in responding back to many of their reviews, and even offer a “love it or you don’t pay for it” promise to win back diners who may have been unhappy with their experience.
At Chronic Tacos, Michael and the team have used focus groups to gain insights into their brand's power, reach, and reputation. The feedback received made them consider new ways to align their public image with their authentic brand ethos.
The latest addition to Chronic Tacos' restaurant tech stack is a new online ordering app that lets guests order ahead and collect loyalty points.
When asked how they foresee technology playing a part in the growth of the restaurant industry, Michael shared that he believes kiosks could help with restaurant efficiency and that restaurants are going to need to adapt in order to sustain success and profitability.
In a world that increasingly caters to diner convenience, third-party delivery solutions have emerged to provide restaurants with a way to scratch this itch. To Michael, third-party delivery is a potential sales generator, though, in his opinion, it can be hard to tell if third-party delivery is encouraging more people to stay at home, thus taking away from in-store sales, or if it’s adding an additional revenue stream to the business.
Opening restaurants from California to South Carolina, Hawaii, Japan and beyond is no easy task, yet despite the unexpected curveballs – the 2008 crash included – Randy, Michael and the Chronic Tacos team have been able to grow a brand that has been well received and respected in each market.
As Randy explains, it’s the continual hard work and dedication of his team that has allowed diners to embrace the Chronic Tacos lifestyle.
For budding restaurateurs, Randy warns, “You’re always on the clock - things can happen in the middle of the night, like a break in or something. You have to be prepared, but it does get easier when you have the right team in place. Buckle in for the hard work but you’ll enjoy it later”.
Hard work and passion aside, Michael also suggests new owners should do their homework early.
“If you want to expand, there's a lot of business decisions you need to make early. If your thought is to grow, make sure that your concept is protected, brand name is protected. Trademark your name - we have ‘Taco Life’ trademarked. We’re very protective about things that are essential to our brand.”