Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, Chef Jose Garces and Ballard Brands announced the successful awarding of the first five Buena Onda franchise licenses to its newest franchisees, business partners Zong Chen and Alexis Chen. Chef Jose Garces serves as Chief Culinary Officer of Ideation Hospitality & Garces Group, a restaurant group with multiple concepts in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in partnership with Ballard Brands, which also owns franchise concepts, PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans and WOW American Eats. Chef Jose Garces and Ballard Brands first announced Buena Onda franchise opportunities in June 2022, and in just a few short months successfully kicked off the national franchise expansion. The five new locations are aiming to open in the DC, Maryland and Virginia region – with the first location lease signed for Pike Center in Rockville, Maryland, with an anticipated opening date in 2024.
“I’m excited to see my concept, which started back in 2015, continue to grow and thrive amid an ever-changing restaurant environment,” says Chef Garces. “Buena Onda is a brand that is welcoming to individual diners and families alike, and the awarding of the first five licenses proves that the brand is an attractive model for investors and franchisees.
He adds, “I can’t wait to share my passion for food with the DMV community and create a dining experience that will leave a lasting impression on everyone who visits. One of the best things about expanding to this region, especially coming from Philadelphia, is that the locations are close enough to our home base that we are able to keep a very close eye on quality during this expansion and quickly make the necessary tweaks to ensure that our high quality and dedication to authentic Buena Onda vibes stays true.”
Buena Onda’s menu, developed by Garces, takes inspiration from Baja peninsula’s culture, seafood shacks, and taquerias. Literally translating to “good vibes” in Spanish, Buena Onda offers a laid-back, casual experience for guests complete with a well-rounded menu with approachable flavors, friendly service, and relaxing tranquillo décor.
Chef Jose Garces stands at the forefront of the Buena Onda brand. As an Iron Chef, James Beard Award-winner, television star, cookbook author, entrepreneur, and food innovator, Garces is known as a leading culinary authority of Spanish and Latin-American food. With recent appearances on national Food Network programming, the launch of Como Como, a new product line in Costco stores, and a partnership with chef-driven meal delivery service, CookUnity, Garces has established himself as an innovator, thought leader, and one of the foremost experts in the culinary field with capabilities that extend far beyond most chefs.
Ballard Brands and Ideation Hospitality led a major expansion of the Buena Onda brand with four new location openings in 2022 and 2023. The brand will now see further expansion, with five additional locations set to open under the licenses awarded to investors and franchisees, business partners Zong Chen and Alexis Chen. New locations will be established in Rockville, Maryland and the Washington, D.C. area, with three additional locations to be determined.
“The acquisition of multiple franchise licenses by the Chens signals the growth and desirability of the Buena Onda brand,” said Ryan Stansbury, Vice President of Franchise Development of Ballard Brands. “Chef Jose Garces continues to be one of the nation’s pioneering chefs, and the success of this model is due in large part to his culinary expertise and vision. Combined with Ballard Brands’ expertise in restaurant operations, management and franchising, our team provides an unapparelled opportunity for those looking to open winning restaurant concepts with a proven track record of success.”
“Chef Jose Garces has taken high quality ingredients and built the Buena Onda brand to focus on an elevated culinary experience coupled with incredible hospitality,” says Ballard Brands Chief Development Officer David Mesa. “The operational model is simplistic and replicable as we ship all necessary menu items and ingredients to our franchised locations. Additionally, we provide hands on assistance to all franchisees from lease signing to daily operations and local store marketing. We want to ensure our daily dining customers and our franchisees are always feeling the good vibes with Buena Onda.”
For the first five franchise licenses, Buena Onda will expand with the first official franchise partners – Zong Chen and Alexis Chen. In addition to Buena Onda, their portfolio includes leading concepts such as Takumi Sushi, Kung Fu Tea, TKK, Pollo Aria, District Dumpling, Nan Xiang Express, Luna Halls, Top Pot & BBQ and we are looking to soon grow more with other exciting brands including PJ’s Coffee of New Orleans—another exciting brand associated with Ballard Brands.
The two business partners have known each other since they were both 18 (for 16 years) and both come from families that immigrated to the United State and both from families that have years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
For the first location in the new market, the lease is also now signed for their first location coming to Pike Center ( 12137 Rockville Pike, Suite 14) in Rockville Maryland, in Montgomery County. Construction is expected to start in the first quarter of 2024, with an estimated opening in the second or third quarter of 2024. The location will provide 2,000 square feet of space.
When asked about why Rockville, MD and the DMV region, Zong replied, “My restaurant history has always involved business in the Rockville Bethesda region including early on in my career. We have another business nearby and numerous businesses in Montgomery County where we consider it to be home to us.”
He added, “We consider our home to be the DMV and Rockville Pike/Rockville, MD historically is one of the lead commercial districts in the DMV. It is a tapestry including major transportation, offices, government and residential. We have an existing successful business in this area so the growth and progression was always in our plans. What clinched it for us launching the first BO in Rockville, MD is much attributable to our special relationship with the landlord team at Kimco Realty who we have a long and positive relationship with.”
“I come from a large family who has always been focused on food as a common vehicle bringing people together. Growing up in the DMV I worked long and hard with my Father at the family take out restaurant and began to appreciate the dedication and commitment needed to run a business not just a food business. My Father worked so hard and I became determined to help implement methods to create more efficiencies and knew from that point my future would involve food business with best-in-class efficiencies and highest quality. My next step was working as a chef in one of the leading sushi restaurants in the DMV where I honed my skills and passion to grow and go out on my own as a foodie entrepreneur.”
When asked why Buena Onda and why Chef Jose Garces, Alexis replies, “When we visited the original Philly location, Zong noticed several key characteristics of Buena Onda, the food looked appealing and it satisfied our craving for high quality taqueria food; however, the clincher was when we visited their kitchen and saw how easy it was for the kitchen staff to assemble the food and how quickly it was delivered in front of customers, that’s when he became committed. Although we do R&D in house and have a team of experienced chefs that make various Asian cuisines and assorted desserts, western cuisines were an uncharted territory for us. We knew we wanted to expand our portfolio by adding more high quality food variety, and were excited that we were able to team up with this rare opportunity.”
She adds, “Our parents’ restaurants relied heavily on skilled labor, and hiring and high food cost made their business unsustainable. From that experience we realized the need to work with best-in-class brands that have SOP, and a reliable supply chain. It’s an honor to work with Chef Garces and the entire team at Garces Brands and Ballard Brands. Everyone’s an expert in what they do, and it has been a great learning experience for us both.”
Stay tuned for more information about the new location coming to Rockville – as well as for more information about the other four locations.