Calexico, the New York City-based concept named Best Mexican in New York City by Zagat, has announced plans for nationwide expansion. The edgy fast casual concept is expanding via a new franchise program, focusing first in core East Coast markets and then elsewhere in the United States. The award-winning concept recently opened its fifth restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which also marks the opening of their first franchised unit with multi-unit franchisee Anthony Fauci of Innovative Hospitality Concepts. After signing on to be the first franchisee to develop in NYC, Fauci also signed a 10 unit deal with his partner, Chris Phillips, for the Philadelphia market.


Calexico began as a street cart business in Manhattan, started by the three Vendley brothers from Calexico, California. The concept quickly grew into a cult phenomenon, winning such accolades as the coveted Vendy Award in 2008, appearing on The Martha Stewart Show’s I Love NY special alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and being named by Zagat Best Mexican in NYC. Calexico then expanded with additional company restaurants in multiple formats in New York City and Brooklyn, including two street carts, a fast casual and a full-service restaurant, and a non-traditional site at the new state-of-the-art Barclays Center, home court of the Brooklyn Nets.


“We spent the first few years developing our brand and building loyalty in our home market of New York City. It’s the most competitive market in the United States; we knew that if our unique food was embraced here, we could grow anywhere,” says Jesse Vendley, founder of Calexico. “We were blown away when we started receiving awards, and Martha Stewart invited us on her show. That praise, coupled with our unit economics, told us our model was ready for growth. New York City and Philadelphia are perfect markets for our first franchisees. There are so many strong markets where an edgier Mexican concept with a true, culinary inspired menu can thrive, like Boston, Washington, DC, Detroit, Pittsburgh, all throughout Florida and obviously the rest of the New York metro area. We’re very excited about the future of Calexico.”


Jesse Vendley is the creative brother behind the hip branding of Calexico; he is also a Creative Director at Digitas, a leading digitally-led, global brand agency.


Calexico’s first franchisee for Manhattan, Anthony Fauci of Innovative Hospitality Concepts, partnered up with Chris Phillips, a former franchisee of AlphaGraphics and current franchisee of Elevation Burger, to open 10 franchised units in Philadelphia. The duo plan to open the first Calexico Philadelphia restaurant in the last quarter of 2013.


“Calexico is totally different from other Mexican restaurants,” says Phillips, Philadelphia franchisee. There is an aura, a vibe, an x-factor that is not only cool but will definitely catch on with the Philly crowd. And the food is just unbelievably good.”


Fauci is optimistic about his fast casual format restaurant now open in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, saying, “They have already established a cult following in New York. It makes my job of opening the new location so much easier.”


Calexico is expanding with the help of franchise development partner Fransmart, the company responsible for growing brands like Five Guys Burgers & Fries, zpizza and Qdoba Mexican Grill.

Denise Lee Yohn: QSR's Marketing Guru, Growth, News, Pizza, Calexico