Roll-Em-Up Taquitos initiated its franchise program in May 2021 with the loftiest of goals—sell 100 restaurant deals before the end of the year. The five-year plan was to reach 500.
The 100-unit benchmark was far above the 40–50 range Chief Development Officer Chris Wyland initially suggested, and that’s because of founder and CEO Ryan Usrey, who consistently challenges him on the development side.
Wyland was more than up for it. Under his direction, the emerging fast casual reached 105 units in development by December. But the brand wasn’t finished.
Just before the curtains closed on 2021, Roll-Em-Up signed a massive, 315-unit master development deal to build stores in Texas and Oklahoma with franchisees David Weaver and Blake Terry. Counting that final agreement, the brand placed 420 restaurants under development in six months.
The new objective is to add another 500 stores to the development schedule in 2022.
“I’ve been involved in this industry for a long time and been with a lot of emerging fast-casual brands, so it absolutely exceeded our expectations,” Wyland says. “Quite frankly, coming into this, I assumed that if we got to a 25–50 max number of units sold during that six-month period, I would have been pretty happy. I’ve been with brands that we took a year just to start the first five or 10.”
Founders: Ryan Usrey
Headquarters: Irvine, CA
Year started: 2019
Annual sales: AUV is currently $2.1 Million.
Total units: 3 (4 under construction, leases executed on 8 additional
More importantly, Wyland says, Roll-Em-Up wants to open 50 locations this year. So much attention will be directed toward putting tools in place to ensure franchisee success.
It starts with what he calls a “deceptively simple” menu. Taquitos are built with a corn or flour tortilla, and filled with either beef, chicken, potato, cheese, or avocado. Toppings include cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and a variety of house-made dipping sauces. The taquitos come in a three or five pack, and customers can mix and match (i.e. beef taquito with flour tortilla, potato taquito with corn tortilla).
The hero item can be paired with seven different sides—street corn, rice, beans, chips/guacamole, chips/salsa, chips/queso, and a churro doughnut.
“I think what we’ve heard from a lot of our new franchisees coming in—and 95 percent of them are current multi-unit operators in the restaurant industry of other brands—the thing they really notice is how easy the operations are,” Wyland says. “And that creates low labor costs, low costs of goods, so I think that’s really a big focus. You talk to some other operators that are in brands where it’s very hard to execute their menu and do it at a cost that actually makes sense and they’re going to make money.”
To assist franchisees even further, Roll-Em-Up improved its digital infrastructure with five key partnerships—Olo, an online ordering platform, Punchh, a loyalty and engagement solution, Toast, a fully integrated POS system, Restaurant365, an all-in-one accounting, inventory, scheduling, payroll, and human resources solution, and FranConnect, a franchise management software provider.
Olo and Punchh power Roll-Em-Up’s mobile app, which is somewhat different than the industry standard. Wyland calls it “gamifying our app.”
Customers will have opportunities to earn free menu items with a certain number of purchases, but they’ll also have chances to scan QR codes at restaurants and enter sweepstakes.
“I think that getting a free taquito or free chicken sandwich will move the needle so much,” Wyland says. “Our thought is that as we move into that next phase of marketing, it would be more sweepstakes where literally people are getting iPads and cars and things like that.”
One of the most encouraging parts of Roll-Em-Up’s future is that it has no core demographic. Wyland says the brand serves “flip flops, cowboy boots, and everything in between.” The industry veteran gets that sense just from sitting in a store for a couple of hours.
This means fewer barriers to entry nationwide, but the development executive is wary of spreading the brand too thin and selling too many deals across the country. From the beginning, the growth strategy has always been to work from the home base of Southern California—Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Orange, and Los Angeles counties—and methodically venture outward. This eases supply chain costs and supports stronger co-op marketing.
The chain signed deals in Central and Northern California to build out The Golden State, moved eastward with an agreement in Las Vegas, and of course, inked the mega contract in Texas and Oklahoma. Roll-Em-Up has eyes on Utah and Colorado for more franchises and will set aside Phoenix as a company-run market.
“The idea is to move across the country, but doing it in a very pragmatic way, but make sure that we’re taking care of the franchisees as we do,” Wyland says. “I get inquiries from Virginia and Florida and Illinois and Connecticut—all across the country all the time. And they’re really just put on the back burner. We’ll get there. But we want to make sure that we’re doing it in a smart way.”
In terms of real estate, Roll-Em-Up primarily searches for two options—a roughly 1,800-square-foot endcap with patio space or a slightly bigger standalone drive-thru. The choice will depend on market; Wyland says drive-thru real estate can be difficult to find in Southern California, but easier in Nevada and Arizona.
The company would like to see more than 80 percent of its footprint have a drive-thru window over time. In fact, Roll-Em-Up is opening the first one in Arizona after converting the space from a Starbucks.
Opening inside a gray shell costs roughly $450,000, according to Wyland, which includes design, construction, signage, and FF&E. However, the Victorville, California, restaurant was converted from a Café Rio, and that cost $125,000.
“If it’s ground up and that’s the best opportunity, then that’s what we’ll move ahead with,” the fast-casual executive says. “We have a lot of build-to-suit opportunities that a lot of our franchisees are taking advantage of right now. At the same time, if we come across a conversion opportunity, but also checks all the boxes when it comes to ingress, egress, traffic counts, and everything else, then that makes sense, as well.”
Wyland says taquitos have been served in Southern California for decades, but nationally, the food has become an after-thought on restaurant menus and in the frozen section at grocery stores.
But Roll-Em-Up is determined to switch that perspective, and the demand for change is clear. The brand’s TikTok account has well over 1 million views, and its Instagram more than 80,000 followers.
“We are the only multi-unit taquito focused concept in the country. Maybe the world,” Wyland says. “Not just franchise concept, but just overall concept. I think that plays a big part. Almost every restaurant around the country is fighting over chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers and pizza. We’re staying in a category by ourselves, so it does make it a little bit easier from that standpoint from a marketing aspect.”
“It just comes down to what we’ve all learned in the industry—you have to start by providing quality products and making sure that you’re providing exceptional service,” he adds. “If you can combine those two things, then the likelihood of retaining [customers] goes up immensely.”