An Interview With TacoTime Authentic Mexican Restaurant Franchise CEO Kevin Gingrich
TacoTime is poised for strategic expansion in 2019
America’s love for high-quality fast-casual Mexican food keeps growing, and TacoTime® Mexican food franchise is poised for growth beyond our Northwestern fan base — our dedication to the freshest ingredients makes up a menu that keeps fans happy.
Since our first grand opening in Oregon more than 50 years ago, TacoTime has been making lifelong fans with our fresh take on Mexican food. Now we have over 250 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and TacoTime is seeking savvy entrepreneurs to expand our brand’s footprint into new parts of the country.
“I’ve been with TacoTime for more than 30 years,” says Kevin Gingrich, Brand President. He and his wife are proud owners of multiple TacoTime locations in Utah. “I eat the food all the time. Building the brand and franchisees while owning stores myself is a huge privilege.”
We sat down with Gingrich to get his take on where TacoTime is headed in 2019.
TacoTime has been aggressively working to add franchisees outside its traditional footprint. What markets have been added, and where are more potential areas for growth?
We are planning to strategically expand beyond our strong Northwestern presence. Typically when people move they move about 100 miles away, so we are focused on strategic expansion into neighboring states. Nevada is our focus, as we only have four locations in Nevada. Expansion into the Reno area will be a gateway into Northern California.
Is TacoTime’s longstanding reputation for quality a selling point?
I’ve grown up with TacoTime for 32 years — our children have, and our parents have.
We have so many generations who have grown up with TacoTime, coming to us for 30 or 40 years or more to enjoy our brand’s core products, such as our classic Crisp Burrito. In fact, our core menu has stayed pretty much as-is for decades just because of that. People have grown up with Taco Time, so there definitely is an emotional appeal.
How do you leverage your dual roles as brand president and franchise owner when talking to potential owners?
I worked in TacoTime for 17 years before joining Kahala Brands™, so whether as a manager or a franchisee I have “been there and done that.” My wife also has been working with TacoTime for years. She takes care of our stores and is a really good litmus test for new ideas. I think my unique dual role also adds a certain amount of confidence for potential and new franchisees. It eases their minds knowing decisions aren’t being remotely made by corporate headquarters.
TacoTime has a very robust ownership engagement structure, with many ways for them to plug into everything from product development to online marketing. How valuable is that for current owners, and as an enticement for new ones?
It is absolutely critical to TacoTime’s success. We have second- and third-generation owners. We want franchisees to be on board right from the get-go. Even if it’s a simple ingredient like cheese, we want them to look at it. The same goes for the testing process. We’re currently working on packaging, for example, and we greatly value franchisee feedback. We place value on our franchise owners’ operational experience. It’s truly a collaborative effort.
How is R&D working to help ensure that quality remains the same while adding some layers and complexity to the offerings?
Our R&D department is very good and is led by Joe O’Brien. It’s a multi-level type decision making. We always start with what we have and then bring the different ingredients or flavors in, or maybe try a different carrier — a burrito bowl, flatbread, etc. We have found that in a few cases we were ahead of our time, such as our rattlesnake salsas. We involve the entire team during the entire process from ingredients to development of the product and purchasing.
How do you work with new owners after they’ve signed all the paperwork?
We lay out the entire time frame, from the time they sign the paperwork to the time they open their store. We have a phenomenal team at Kahala Brands, from the brokers to the construction department, and we want to help franchisees grow. Of course, it’s ultimately up to them, but we do everything we can on the front end to help ensurethat, from getting the best land to constructing a building for fastest return on investment possible and getting them up and running. They know we are going to have a step for everything. We don’t want to be a fly on the wall. We’ve been there and done that. We want to make the learning curve as short as possible for franchisees.
TacoTime has very strong loyalty with owners, with little turnover. That’s not typical of the food/hospitality industry. How do you make it work?
Taco Time only had one transfer last year — and none this year — and that one store transfer was a parent to a child. If you take care of your Taco Time, it will take care of you — but you are going to work hard! If you’re a disengaged owner three states away relying on a couple of 18-year-olds running your store, you’re not going to be as successful. We are going to bring everything to you on a silver platter wrapped in a bow. And while we will provide everything you need, it’s up to you to work the store — hire and train the right people and focus on the customers. Kahala Brands embraces the franchisee/franchisor relationship because we are all in this together. So when a potential franchisee reaches out to a current franchisee, they’ll get validation. That’s huge.
Kahala Brands continues to grow in the U.S. How does that kind of muscle help TacoTime as it, too, seeks to expand?
As Kahala Brands focuses on expanding some of its brands, those investors are going to look at other Kahala brands to grow with — such as TacoTime. It opens them up to a pool of franchisees that hopefully already have a positive view and want to add to their portfolio. The other HUGE benefit is when it comes to distribution. We are working with dozens upon dozens of vendors on items, even something as simple as cups. We may even cross-utilize an ingredient. Either way, it helps lower the pricing for everybody across the board.
Low initial investment with potentially high return
For entrepreneurs wanting to open a restaurant in the highly competitive Mexican QSR space, TacoTime offers an attractive investment opportunity. The initial investment estimate for a traditional TacoTime restaurant ranges between $396,150 and $814,050, about half the initial investment for other quick-service Mexican brands. We also offer lower buildout costs than other brands in the Mexican QSR space, which means faster ramp-up time leading to opening day to allow for a potentially faster return on investment. The franchise fee for your first traditional TacoTime franchise is $30,000, and the franchise fee for multiple units may be discounted if certain conditions are met.
TacoTime is ready for the spotlight. With more than 250 locations in the United States and Canada, the Mexican food franchise is ready to break out of its home turf in the Pacific Northwest and hit the national stage. TacoTime is looking for entrepreneurs who are passionate about bringing authentic and affordable Mexican food to their communities. TacoTime is led by a veteran franchise team and has dedicated brand support team as part of the Kahala Brands™ family.