Emerging Concepts | October 2013 | By Judy Kneiszel

Ones To Watch: Chronic Tacos

Quick-serve taco chain serves up authentic Mexican dishes with a side of company culture.

Mexican fast food chain Chronic Tacos offers authentic dishes and flavors.
Chronic Tacos
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Chronic Tacos CEO Michael Mohammed says it’s the recipes that make his California-based quick-serve concept stand out in the fast-casual Mexican food arena.

“The founders bought the recipes from a family friend, who was third-generation Mexican-American,” Mohammed says. “The flavor is more authentic. The recipes are a little more complicated, and you really notice the flavors.”

Those authentic recipes include burrito and taco fillings such as carne asada (steak), pollo asado (chicken), carnitas (slow-cooked pork), and al pastor (spicy marinated pork). In addition, Mohammed says, all add-ons—from pico de gallo and guacamole to salsa and tortilla chips—are made fresh in-house every day.

“We are constantly cooking throughout the day to make it fresh,” he says. “From there, what makes us stand out is the culture. We call it the ‘Taco Life,’ which means we encourage individuality in our restaurants. You order the food the way you want it.”

Chronic Tacos was founded by childhood friends Dan Biello and Randy Wyner, who were frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of authentic tacos in the Newport Beach, California, area where they lived.

“They wanted to do a taco shop that offered customizable food because Randy himself was a picky eater,” Mohammed says. “Everything at Chronic Tacos is highly customizable; we can really adapt to people’s diets. All items are separate and easy to adjust.”

Chronic Tacos is an assembly line–style quick-serve restaurant, where customers progress down the line picking and choosing among ingredients to build their individualized burrito, taco, tostada, torta, nachos, or quesadilla. Taquitos, flautas, enchiladas, tostada bowls, and tamales are also available.

Chronic Tacos sets itself apart from many competitors in the limited-service Mexican arena by also offering both grilled fish and shrimp, as well as beer-battered fish and shrimp. Homemade soups are available year-round, and salads were introduced this year.

Chronic Tacos

Founder & President: Michael Mohammed

HQ: San Clemente, California

Year Started: 2002

Annual Sales: $20 million

Total Units:35

Franchise units: 30

www.eatchronictacos.com

“Salads are popular because they can be as simple or complicated as you want,” Mohammed says. “And we have unique dressings like Chipotle Lime Vinaigrette and Jalapeño Lime.”

Chronic Tacos also offers breakfast items. Most locations open at 8:30 a.m. and have breakfast-type ingredients available all day.

“We have breakfast tacos, burritos, and bowls with eggs, potatoes, bacon … whatever you want,” Mohammed says.

Tacos are priced at $2.99 and burritos are $6.29.

“There’s a lot of meat in our tacos, so we double up on tortillas to hold it all together,” Mohammed says. “There are 2 ounces of meat in each taco.” The burritos are large, too, made with 13-inch tortillas.

Customers can add chips and a drink to any order for an additional $2.99, or chips, a drink, rice, and beans for an additional $4.99. The average per-customer ticket comes in at about $10. Beer is available at most locations.

After the first unit debuted in Newport Beach, the second location opened its doors in Huntington Beach, California, in 2005. The concept started franchising in 2006, with the debut of a Chronic Tacos in San Clemente, California.

There are now more than 30 Chronic Tacos throughout California, as well as in Arizona and Idaho. A regular visitor to the Huntington Beach location brought Chronic Tacos to Canada, which is where Mohammed got involved.

“I met Randy [Wyner] in 2010, when Chronic Tacos came to Canada,” he says. “In 2011, the controlling partners wanted to sell off, so my three brothers and I took over as the Chronic Tacos Enterprises team.”

Mohammed’s brother Dan is the vice president, Dave is marketing director, and Joey is the company’s graphic designer. While Mohammed moved to California, his brothers remain in Canada. The founding partners still have minority shares in the company.

Mohammed says there are five Chronic Taco locations slated to open in the next year.

“Over three years, we’d like to add another 50 stores, then grow to 100 by 2018 and go from there,” he says. “We want to grow in California and also in Washington state, Oregon, across Canada, through Texas, Arizona, and Nevada.”

As the chain grows, the size of the stores is getting a bit larger, as well. The original location is about 800 square feet, but newer locations are at least 1,500 square feet and many include a bar because, Mohammed says, “people like margaritas with tacos.”

Mohammed says with or without a bar, Chronic Tacos is a good place to hang out.

“We’re popular with young adults, as well as older adults who like the food and the vibe,” he says. “And younger kids find it to be a cool brand.”

He says each store has the Chronic Tacos branding and theme but is individualized. Chronic Tacos’ support of extreme sports is also evident throughout the stores. The brand sponsors surf, skate, BMX, and Moto X teams.

“We often work with local artists to do a whole wall mural and give a restaurant a local flavor,” he says. “We want individuality in locations so we’re not a cookie-cutter chain.”