Manuel Rodriguez knew he wanted to start his own restaurant business when he was in college. The inspiration for his own concept came to Rodriguez when he and a friend visited a noodle shop in Chihuahua, Mexico, in 2012. There, the Mexico native saw the build-your-own-meal model in action, and he loved the idea. He saw the simple options and the infinite potential combinations that the natural ingredients could create. So Rodriguez began working on his own concept, Woko Loco.
He first opened the Asian-inspired concept in Mexico, but eventually made his way to the U.S., where he thought he could have the greatest impact. Rodriguez tried to settle in Kansas City, Kansas, and later Nashville, Tennessee, before settling in Austin, Texas. Woko Loco opened last January with a focus on bringing a positive atmosphere to the community; the brand emphasizes kindness both to employees and to customers. Rodriguez spoke with QSR about opening the noodle-bowl concept in Austin and why he’s determined to create a positive business environment.
What’s driving the positive atmosphere in your restaurant?
As soon as someone walks into the store, we welcome them. We always look at them in the eyes, and as soon as they arrive at the counter, we always ask them if this is their first time or not. If it is their first time, we explain the menu very thoroughly and very kindly. Once we finish filling the box, we ask them for their names and we try to memorize their names, so next time they come in, we mention them by name and then they feel special. I also emphasize hiring the right people, because that’s where the magic starts. If you have the wrong people who don’t enjoy working in your restaurant, then they’re going to transmit that frustration to the customers.
How important to your success is being in Austin?
Everywhere I researched, it said the best place to open a restaurant now was Austin. When I got here, I fell in love with the city. I love water and trees and I love when people are very active, and Austin has all of that. There’s always something going on. There are always people outside, and the restaurants are full.
Why did you include an open-air design and glass walls in your restaurant?
The whole kitchen can be seen from the dining room. Customers can see everything, which is also something that people like. I’m a fan of symmetry and I’m focused on cleanliness, so the restaurant is impeccable. Everything is organized. Employees love it because they can find everything and they like working in an organized kitchen. Customers can see everything, and, when they see it, they feel safe eating there.