Seven franchisees approached Jeff Jackson, signatures ready and capital on hand. The only problem? The CEO and president of Legendary Q Brands, the franchisor behind 50-unit fast casual Billy Sims BBQ, hadn’t launched the concept they were hungry for yet.
“I’m like, ‘Guys, just let me guinea pig this first,” Jackson says.
On December 1, Jackson and chief of operations Ryan Gray debuted Tacocue Americano Eatery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. While the restaurant won’t promote its connection to the celebrated barbecue chain, led by former NFL player Billy Sims, the relationship will be easy to spot. Tacocue, as the same suggests, is melding two of the industry’s stalwart cuisines. For the “cue” part, their meats will be prepared in the same smoked style that has made Billy Sims BBQ a regional icon. After visiting some of the Mexican segment’s top players, Jackson noticed that smoked meats were usually featured in a small way. “So we thought, ‘Why don’t we do a fast casual restaurant and let’s be different than the Chipotles and Qdobas. Let’s do smoked meats. It’s what we know, and let’s infuse it. Let’s do an American menu mixed with Mexican infusion. I believe it sets us apart.”
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Smoked using pecan wood, Tacocue’s chicken, hot links, chorizo, Hamlet ham, brisket, steak, pulled pork, and breakfast bacon, will take a page out of Billy Sims’ history. And that’s a great well of success to pull from, Jackson says. But at the same time, he believes Tacocue is substantial enough to stand on its own.
“There are some twists and tweaks that are completely different than what we do at Billy Sims,” he says, adding that the seasonings and recipes are different. “So we’re going to really keep the two entirely separate. But it is really the foundation for how the meats are cooked and what we know and do well. Those things are still going to be in place.”
Some of those twists have potential franchisees eager to join in. To start, Jackson wanted Tacocue to distance itself from other Mexican fast casuals by embracing the breakfast daypart. Using fresh ingredients, he also thinks the concept can seamlessly step into this middle gap between full-service and quick-service breakfast.
“We’re going after that morning rush,” Jackson says. “We want people to come in and have a breakfast taco or a breakfast burrito. We’re going to cook fresh eggs and fresh bacon and incorporate those into meals, which will give us a little higher quality than if you went to McDonald’s and got a breakfast burrito. Let’s give them a flavor burst and let them build their own meal.”
Tacocue is also offering premium coffees: imperial coffee, European blend, Colombian blend, and decaf.
A lot of these ideas were inspired by the location itself. Jackson had his eye on the 2,700-square-foot space at 9107 South Sheridan Road for quite some time. Mainly, he was zoned in on the heated, all-season patio.
From sitting outside for a nice breakfast to enjoying live music, Tacocue is positioned to accommodate diners who might want to sit and stay a while, not just grab a burrito and go. In response, the restaurant serves an assortment of domestic and imported beers, as well as a modest selection of wines. “We’ve got this patio, a beautiful fireplace, and basically my wife demanded [the wines] because all the women will want it,” Jackson says.
Opening weekend, they hosted live music and placed a photo booth for guests to interact with. They also went around to area businesses and neighborhoods and gave away around 2,000 free tacos.
Drumming up interest hasn’t been difficult, Jackson says. The menu features four items: The Taco Duo, Bowl, Burrito, and Quesadilla. There are three salsas and more than 20 ingredients to customize the meal.
As for the future, Jackson says they could start franchising within a year, and that they would likely remain in Oklahoma initially. However, those interested franchisees already stretch as far as Iowa.
“They’re very excited,” Jackson says. “With the barbecue in Oklahoma our locations are pretty much sold out across the state. So some of these franchisees where they don’t’ have room for growth, the idea of adding on a Tacocue is very exciting for them. But let’s take baby steps and let’s make sure it works. Once we have our systems down, we’ll see where it goes from there.”
By Danny Klein