Rego plans to stick to the limited-service space. If you look at Taco Del Mar, it’s easy to see the thread Rego expects to start weaving. The chain, which debuted 1992 in Seattle, grew to 70 restaurants by 2002, with most of the units in its home markets. However, Taco Del Mar traversed a rocky franchise history in recent years, not unlike Quiznos.
Taco Del Mar Franchising Corp. sought Chapter 11 protection in January 2010, crediting years of financial loses due to lawsuit expenses, poor expense management, and “poor franchisees and poor sites,” for new restaurants. At the time, The Seattle Times said Taco Del Mar’s debt ranged from $1–$2 million. There were roughly 225 locations in the U.S., Canada, and Guam. It lost $2.8 million between 2006–2008. The company had more than $17 million in debt as of November 30, 2009.
The Seattle Times said the brand “embarked on an expansion spree,” signing up master developers who paid for the right to find franchisees and pick new locations. In exchange, the developers received half of the franchisee’s initial fees and ongoing royalties.
Within six years, Taco Del Mar’s footprint boomed to 270 stores and revenue climbed from $950,000 to $5.4 million. Yet expenses dragged profit, including more corporate employees and rising payments to master developers. When it filed for Chapter 11 protection, Taco Del Mar had stopped paying business and occupation taxes to King County since June 2006. It owed back taxes of $95,290 to the county, $81,182 to the Internal Revenue Service, and $105,325 to the Canada Revenue Agency, according to The Seattle Times.
In October 2010, Franchise Brands LLC, founded by Subway co-founders Fred De Luca and Peter Buck in 2005, purchased Taco Del Mar for $3.3 million.
Like Quiznos, Taco Del Mar had plenty of foundation, in regards to brand equity, when High Bluff jumped in. The Baja lifestyle positioning was well established in the Pacific Northwest and didn’t suffer from lack of consumer exposure.
This provided a gateway for Rego to use its targeted capital, scale, management expertise, and focus on innovation to revitalize Taco Del Mar.
“Things that might not be doing so well. Things that might have been neglected by the owners. Things that might have been capitalized incorrectly and are suffering from a heavy debt load and need to be restructured,” Gowda says, “for reasons that are unrelated to the quality of the product. We think we can bring [those types of restaurants] back into the mainstream.”
Gowda says Casey’s skills as a tactician will be invaluable to Rego as its looks to accomplish this goal. “With his ability to execute, his innovative perspective on things, and then combing that with my history around bringing new ideas and concepts to old brands [it’s a great fit],” he says.