As Torchy’s Tacos ramps up growth in 2019, the fast-casual brand has decided to expand its leadership team as well.
Last month, the Austin, Texas–based company added two new executives to its leadership team. Elizabeth Baxter was announced as Torchy’s chief people officer and Scott Hudler was brought on as chief marketing officer.
The expertise of these new executives will help expand the brand’s presence in and out of Texas. Torchy’s investment in its leadership team reflects the chain’s expansion strategy
“I’m very excited to have Scott and Elizabeth as part of the leadership team to help us write the next chapter of growth for this amazing brand,” Torchy’s Tacos CEO G.J. Hart, said in a statement. “Scott and Elizabeth bring the right blend of large company experience and entrepreneurial spirit that will help drive the brand through its next phase of growth.”
Hudler, who previously worked as chief marketing officer at Dick’s Sporting Goods and chief digital officer at Dunkin’, believes his experience will help bring Torchy’s to the next level. After leaving Dunkin’, Hudler realized how much he liked working in the restaurant industry.
“After I left Dunkin’ I purposefully did not want to go do restaurants again just because I had done it, and I just wanted to use some different muscles and think about something differently,” he says. “Something I realized pretty quickly was I really missed it.”
When the opportunity to get back into the restaurant industry came with Torchy’s, Hudler jumped at the chance to join leadership team. He says, “It’s such a great brand and it has such great potential. The opportunity to come in here and take what the original five founders ... had built is such an amazing brand, such an amazing story, and then be able to help with chapter two for that is super exciting. We’re a smaller, entrepreneurial brand and that’s exciting to me and just the chance to be a part of this as we grow and scale this to become a national brand is one of the key drivers.”
The next step in Torchy’s plan to bring ‘damn good’ tacos to every corner of the United States is expanding to another state. In 2019, the Texas brand will expand its footprint to Arkansas.
Since opening as a food truck in Austin in 2006, Torchy’s has grown to 61 locations in three states—Texas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Hudler said the company opened a dozen locations last year alone.
While the company isn’t disclosing an exact number of locations it expects to open in the coming year, it will be sticking to developing and expanding within Arkansas. The first location will open in Fayetteville.
Torchy’s goal is to become a national brand, but the growth will be slow and strategic, Hudler says.
“We’re taking a very pragmatic view of growth,” Hudler says. “We’re not going to start being dots on a map randomly all over the country. We’re going to be very pragmatic and smart branching out from where our core is right now. So, we think Arkansas is a great fit. We’ll continue to look at locations kind of north and west and east and just continue to grow.”
Another reason Torchy’s is taking a slow approach to growth is based on the company’s dedication to cooking great food. Food is what sets Torchy’s apart from other fast-casual taco joints, Hudler says.
“We are completely focused on the food and the recipes that Mike [ Rypka] created. A lot of care goes into the sourcing of the ingredients, the preparation of the food,” he says. “A lot of people don’t know that when you come to Torchy’s that your taco is not prepared until you have placed your order.”
The chicken in Torchy’s chicken fajita taco doesn’t hit the grill until the ticket goes back to the kitchen.
In order to maintain the quality of the food, certain systems and processes need to be put in place as the brand expands into new locations. By developing sustainable supply chains, Torchy’s is able to maintain the quality of its products across the board.
“That’s another reason why we're not just putting dots on a map,” Hudler says. “ We want to build supply chain networks that are interconnected and cohesive versus we’d love to go drop a store in a big market on the East Coast and then open a big market on the West Coast. It's just not really a feasible design structure for us on a lot of things supply chain, operations, and other things.”
For the moment franchising is off the table in Torchy’s growth strategy. The company will remain 100 percent company owned for the foreseeable future, Hudler says. He admits this approach to expansion is slower as the chain is using its own money to fund new locations unlike other brands that use capital from franchisees to help with expansion.
This strategy goes back to the company’s dedication to quality of the food it serves. Sometimes people mess up recipes and the food just doesn’t come out right. Torchy’s isn’t going to risk the quality of its food, Hudler says.
“We take such pride in the food and what's delivered that we don’t want to hand that off to someone else and ask them to deliver it. We want to make sure that we are doing it and we are responsible for it,” Hudler says. “You see it in our original logo it says ‘Damn Good’ and we focus on that.”
“It’s a part of our ethos to serve damn good tacos and so we want to make sure we can control as much of that as possible,” he adds. “What we consider as ‘Damn Good’ and what someone else considers ‘Damn Good’ can be different, so we want to make sure we are in control of our brand.”
Along with its commitment to food quality, Torchy’s is dedicated to giving customers an exceptional experience in the restaurants. People come for the tacos and come back for the experience, Hudler says.
“If the food’s not good and we’re not delivering great-tasting food in a hospitable way people are just not going to come back,” he says.
To curate a unique experience for guests, each Torchy’s restaurant features an original design: All 61 Torchy’s locations are different. The team, Hudler says, jokes “If you’ve seen one Torchy’s, you’ve seen one Torchy’s.” Some feature patios for dining al fresco when the weather is nice and others, like the original food truck, offer guests the chance to grab a quick bite at different spots around town.
“We’re a fun irreverent brand and we’ve got to continue that,” Hudler says. “The focus on the food is a big part.”
Any time guests visit a Torchy’s they will see some type of representation of “Damn Good” reflected in the restaurant. From a neon sign to a mural, the company wants its motto to be right there, front and center.
“There are a lot of different ways we represent ‘Damn Good,’ but it's really a two-fold thing,” Hudler says. “It tells the guest: Yes your expectation should be higher when we go to Torchy’s. ... For us to see that in every restaurant it's just a nice, not very subtle, reminder that we need to be delivering a ‘Damn Good’ experience across all aspects of the business.”