Co-owner Ryan Chadwick believes Goa Taco has the chops to become a fast casual staple across the country. But he also understands the brand, once named a Critic’s Pick by The New York Times, needs some help. Chadwick and Duvaldi Marneweck, who brought the concept to life at artisanal food vendor market, Smorgasburg, in 2014, are looking for a partner to grow Goa Taco.
While Chadwick says the duo wants to stay involved creatively, how much of the fast casual is up for sale can be negotiated. “We would sell a large portion of it. Something to make it attractive for a group to come in,” he says.
Goa Taco opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Lower East Side of Manhattan six months after getting started. It then expanded to MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village in April 2017. Marneweck opened a Santa Barbara, California, store in June 2017, and Goa Taco remains a mainstay at Smorgasburg on both coasts.
Chadwick says they’re looking for someone who has experience growing a franchise, and knows how to scale fast casual in particular. On the other side of the equation, there are many details Chadwick thinks will appeal to buyers.
Firstly, Goa Taco has earned local recognition in droves, and there’s a reason. Eater listed it as one of “New York City’s 15 Hottest Cheap Eats Restaurants.” Travel + Leisure included Goa Taco in its “10 Unusual Tacos Redefining the Genre.” TimeOut labeled the brand’s food as one of the “100 Best Dishes and Drinks in New York City 2015.” Zagat called featured Goa Taco in the “10 Must-Try Dishes for $10 and Under in NYC.” And the list goes on.
On the intimate level, Chadwick says the brand’s return rate for customers is about 30 percent. “Once they try it they come back for more. It’s like getting hooked on it,” he says. “Or it becomes part of their routine: Like I need to go to Goa Taco this week because I really miss that pork taco. We hear that kind of stuff all the time.”
Operationally, Goa Taco has a lot going for it as well. It’s incredibly nimble, as far as real estate goes. The restaurants are typically less than 300 square feet. They run entirely off electric and don’t require venting. The product is fired up in less than a minute and the entire unit needs only two people (one during off hours) to operate.
Meanwhile, the Lower East Side store did sales of $460,434 in its first year. It followed up with $435,061 in 2016. Chadwick says he built the second unit, on MacDougal Street, for about $30–40,000.
He says Goa Taco could make a perfect target for operators looking to co-brand current stores. For instance, a concept selling sweet items, ice cream, and so forth, could carve out a corner for a Goa Taco add-on or sidecar it to the building. It would toss in a savory element with very little startup or resources needed. But the potential remains significant. It would also help attract young diners, who make up a solid portion of Goa Taco’s base. The Santa Barbara store serves alcohol, showing Goa Taco’s versatility, Chadwick says. Marneweck uses it to take advantage of promotions like Taco Tuesday and add creative pairings to the menu.
Goa Taco is centered on paratha tacos, which the brand says are “the buttery, flakey lovechild of the tortilla.” Marneweck is a South African native who clocked time at acclaimed restaurants throughout Australia after school.
The menu is anchored by six tacos: Slow roasted pork belly; house-made chicken chorizo; mojo beef; paneer cheese; tofu banh mi, and recado rojo lamb shoulder. The most expensive item, the lamb taco, is $8.27.
Chadwick, who also operates Grey Lady, a multi-unit seafood concept with locations in Aspen, Colorado, Montauk, New York, and the LES, says the menu, which is cooked at in a commissary kitchen, produces great margins. The pork taco, for example, runs 97 cents in food cost and sells for $7.50.
All the employee needs to do is put the bread on the flattop. All the meats are preheated. The worker just assembles the taco and calls out a number. “Very easy,” Chadwick says. “Two people per store on a 300-square foot unit. That’s what’s kind of nice in a market like this, where you’re saving on a lot of counter labor.”
Uniquely, Goa Taco even patented its paratha taco packaging that Chadwick says could be sold to franchisees. It looks like an envelope with the Goa Taco stamp on the outside. It’s a perfect carrier for on-the-go customers, Chadwick adds.
“It’s all branding,” Chadwick says. “And it kind of sets us apart for having our own envelope for the taco from, say, another taco product.”
“This market itself is kind of unique,” he adds. “You don’t see a lot of taco franchises.”
The decision to pursue a buyer is something Chadwick says came about when they began to look ahead.
“One or two stores is fine, but when you get into five, 10, 15 stores, that’s when you need to make changes. And that’s when we need to know what changes need to be done,” he says. “We want to see who’s interested about taking this on and just taking it to the next step. That’s what we need. Better direction on how that process works.”
“We’re stoked to get the word out there and hopefully start collaborating with someone who knows how to open multi-units and take it to the next level. Because that’s where we see it going.”
Interested parties can reach out to [email protected].