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    Taco Cabana Renews Brand with Menu, Experience Upgrades

  • A total of 97 core products have been improved via ingredient and quality upgrades.

    Taco Caban
    Taco Cabana's overhaul affected almost 90 percent of the menu.

    First it was Pollo Tropical. Now, Fiesta Restaurant Group is ready to spotlight a significant overhaul of its other brand, Taco Cabana. The group revealed Thursday that 97 of the 40-year-old chain’s core products have been improved via ingredient and quality upgrades, affecting nearly 90 percent of the 170-unit chain’s menu. That’s roughly the same percentage of menu refresh Fiesta affected at Pollo Tropical when it relaunched the brand last October. Another common thread: Fiesta took a quality-first approach to the overhaul. Nothing splashy. Just listening to guests and trying to reverse what Fiesta saw as unacceptable customer sentiment.

    READ MORE: The comeback is on for Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana.

    “Fans who have been loyal to us for years were raising concerns that our food wasn’t hitting the same standard of quality we’ve always been known for,” Chuck Locke, president of Taco Cabana, said in a statement. “We’ve also had new management join the company, myself included, who have added their expertise to our processes, cuisine and training. This new perspective has been invaluable in taking TC to the next level.”

    Locke officially joined the company in October after a nine-year stint as chief operating officer of Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, a polished casual-dining concept based in South Florida.

    In the revamp, Taco Cabana shifted to USDA Choice Steak and NAE (no antibiotics ever) chicken. It also introduced “Loaded Taco” options across multiple proteins. For example, the latest addition is new ground beef tacos, made in-house and based on Taco Cabana’s original recipe. These are expected to hit stores August for $3.99 (two soft ground-beef tacos).

    “The renewal journey,” as Locke called it, extends beyond menu improvements. It includes event programs and service enhancements, as well as revisiting the brand’s roots as the “Original Mexican Patio Café.” Taco Cabana amplified its patio program to include live entertainment, karaoke, game nights, and other experience-driven events for customers. Additionally, it ramped up its beverage program by adding Frozen Raspberry Vodka Lemonade made with Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and rotating seasonal Margarita flavors made with 100 percent Agave Lunazul Tequila. Other drink specials are on deck for the rest of the year.

    On the service side, Taco Cabana said it would be testing in-restaurant self-order kiosks this fall, and has completed the systemwide launch of digital menu boards. It has steadily introduced new cooking platforms across locations, such as Combi Ovens, in an effort to improve product taste and consistency.

    Taco Cabana

    Taco Cabana now serves up USDA Choice Steak and NAE Chicken Tacos.

    “Our guests have more dining options than ever before, so listening to their feedback is crucial in earning their loyalty,” Locke said. “We want them to know that we’re listening and striving to create an amazing dining experience for them every time they visit our restaurants.”

    Further, Taco Cabana plans to launch a MyTC! Loyalty program in the fall. This will provide exclusive offers, news and rewards, and build a member base Taco Cabana can speak directly to.

    “If you grew up loving Taco Cabana, but haven’t visited us in a while, we hope you come see what we’ve been up to. And if you’ve never tried us at all, we ask that you give us a shot. We’ve done a lot to make our recipes and overall brand experience better than ever,” Locke added.

    The brand added seven Texas stores this year in San Antonio, Katy, Hurst, Terrell, and Baytown.

    Taco Cabana’s overhaul comes at an interesting time for Fiesta. In Q1, Pollo Tropical reported same-store gains of 1.1 percent compared to a 6.7 percent decrease in the first quarter that ended April 2. Taco Cabana’s comps dipped 1.7 percent versus the prior-year 4.5 percent drop. The results were a welcomed change. If you rewind back a year to Q1 2017, Fiesta shuttered 30 stores and saw its transactions dip 8.9 percent and 4 percent, respectively at Pollo Tropical and Taco Cabana,. Total revenues fell 0.6 percent o $175.6 million.

    Management then began touting a “strategic renewal plan,” that kept its eye on long-term growth. Among those changes were the widespread experience and food flips, as well as a renewed focus in core markets.

    This past quarter’s positive comps marked Pollo Tropical’s first quarter of comparable same-store sales growth since the fourth quarter of 2015. The chain’s core markets of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida posted comp increases of 3 percent.

    Taco Cabana has improved its sales every quarter since August 2017. With the help of founding chef Connie Gutierrez, the brand has looked at reestablishing quality in its recipes as the key driver.

    “Similar to Pollo, guests are noticing the enhancements we have put in place at TC. And our guest metrics and social media scores are improving. As we continue to build our sales, our margins will also improve,” Fiesta president and CEO Richard Stockinger said in May.