Emerging Concepts | March 2012 | By Judy Kneiszel

One to Watch: Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

Concept thrives on cheap tacos and alcohol in a pub-style environment.

Fuzzy's Taco Shop succeeds with tacos and alcohol in a pub environment.
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Not all of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop locations are near college campuses, but that’s how the chain got its start, and college towns are still a preferred destination for the purveyor of Baja Tacos and Jumbo Burritos.

“We offer generous portions at a fair price,” says Paul Rickels, vice president of franchise for Fuzzy’s Taco Shop. “It’s a value for the college student without a lot of discretionary funds, who finds fresh food very appealing. On top of that, we have ice-cold beer, which is also attractive.”

At a Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, a hungry student can get a crispy or soft-shell taco with his choice of protein, along with a beer, for less than $5.

“The taco is a good portion of food,” Rickels says.

Pricier entrées like the Fajita Plate, served with three tortillas, guacamole, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, pico de gallo, and two sides bring the average ticket at Fuzzy’s Tacos to about $9. But the $1.99 taco, which Rickels calls “addictive” because of its garlic sauce and feta cheese, is the backbone of the menu.

Established by a Fort Worth chef in 2001, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop was put up for sale by the founder after two years of operation. The father-son duo Alan and Chuck Bush, with a combined 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry, saw potential in the concept, so they took on some partners and bought Fuzzy’s Taco Shop.

“Chuck went in and made operational changes, mainly with portion control,” Rickels says. “None of the recipes were written down and there were inconsistencies. If you asked three cooks how to make a shrimp taco, one would grab a handful of shrimp and thrown them on the grill, the second would use six, and a third would use 10. Chuck knew that’s where pennies are made and lost.”

Fuzzy’s Taco Shop

Founder/CEO: Chuck Bush

HQ: Fort Worth, Texas

Year Started: 2001

Annual Sales: Undisclosed

Total Units: 50

Franchise Units: 44

www.fuzzystacoshop.com

Rickels says the Bushes established order in the kitchen, hired people with a passion for the restaurant and the brand, and “within a year it was running a profit.”

A second Fuzzy’s store, also in Fort Worth, opened in 2007. Today, college students from Texas Christian University to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, have found Fuzzy’s to be just as much a hangout location as a fast food venue.

“I make the association with a pub,” Rickels says. “Not that it’s a drinking establishment, but it’s a social community. You can sit around and talk and have fun and it doesn’t matter if you spill on the floor.”

While all Fuzzy’s Taco Shop locations have a décor featuring bright colors and several TVs, individual locations have their own look and feel.

“Each restaurant is encouraged to make décor personal to the local community,” Rickels says. “In Fort Worth you’ll find TCU memorabilia on the walls. Another location will have local high school cheerleading squad pictures on the walls. Each local community has its own identity and every community has ownership of its Fuzzy’s.”

Rickels says the variety among “Fuzzy fans” beyond just college students brings vitality to the brand. “You might see a family with young kids at one table and business people in suits at another table, next to a table full of college kids, next to a table full of construction workers,” he says.

While Fuzzy’s Taco Shop locations vary in size from 1,900 square feet to 5,000 square feet, they average about 3,000 square feet and all have a patio. Most Fuzzy’s locations are open for breakfast hours, and all locations serve breakfast items like Chorizo, Egg, and Cheese Tacos and Burritos all day.

Rickels says offering the entire menu all day works great in areas with hospitals and universities where people get off of work at odd times.

“It’s not uncommon to walk into a restaurant in the morning and see doctors and nurses having margaritas, because they just got off of work,” he says.

All Fuzzy’s Taco Shop locations serve beer and wine, and some have full liquor licenses. Alcoholic beverages account for between 10 percent and 15 percent of the chain’s sales.

Rickels says Fuzzy’s hasn’t marketed its franchise opportunities too heavily since opening for franchising in 2009.

“There’s not even a place to request franchise information on the website,” he says. “And yet we have 50 restaurants open and 120 in development. In 2011 we added 25 stores and we’ll probably add another 25 plus this year.

“This all comes from word of mouth and connections. We spend a lot of time talking to people before we come to an agreement. We want to make sure we have the right people representing our brand.”

Rickels says “the right people” are those who will engage the guests. “Our general managers are out front greeting people and talking to people about our food every day,” he says.