Authenticity and a unique vibe help this Mexican fast-casual stand out.

Beyond the one obvious heavy hitter, the Mexican fast-casual segment is virtually wide open. It’s why Chronic Tacos is so excited about its growth potential—for one, there’s a lot of white space in what’s proven to be an extremely popular segment. Secondly, Chronic Tacos believes it has what it takes to be a major player in the category’s future. 

In fact, if you ask Chronic Tacos CEO Micahel Mohammed, he believes his brand has an edge against any rival of any size, citing great food and unique branding. 

“This is a growing segment,” Mohammed says. “There are many brands our size serving Mexican food, so you have to create an experience for the customer, and we really believe we create the best, most unique experience. And on top of that, our food is more authentic and traditional. We’ll put our food up against any competitor, bigger, smaller, quick-service, or full service.”

Chronic Tacos origins date back to 2002, when two friends—Randy Wyner and Dan Biello—were bemoaning the fact that they couldn’t get great, authentic tacos near their local hangout in Newport Beach, California. Where many friends may have let the conversation come and go, Wyner and Biello went in a very different direction, buying a lease to start their own authentic Mexican restaurant. They wanted food that was authentic as a taqueria, with a vibe that was both looser and more elevated. 

They reached out to family friends who were third-generation Mexican Americans and began building a menu with their experience and expertise. Wyner and Biello couldn’t have known it then, but the two friends were starting something of a movement. It’s what they now refer to as the “Taco Life,” or the ethos of their growing brand, which now has over 50 locations across 10 states. 

“‘Taco Life’ for us is about individuality,” Mohammed says. “It’s about embracing the uniqueness of everybody’s lifestyle, whatever it is that they do. It’s really a culture that values creativity, progressiveness, and having fun—that’s the vibe we’ve created as a brand and that we seek to build within our restaurants.”

According to Mohammed, there are three strategic pillars that the brand focuses on to make it stand out from its competitors: unparalleled flavor, an elevated vibe, and an irresistible edge.

The unparalleled flavor comes from Southern California-inspired, third-generation recipes that Mohammed and others refer to as “higher quality than a typical fast casual.” Popular menu items include the signature California burrito, as well as tacos al pastor.

The elevated vibe is created by the approach the brand takes to training employees, emphasizing an atmosphere where everyone will feel welcome and happy to be hanging out there. According to Mohammed, each employee is encouraged to be their “true, authentic self,” which helps forge that image throughout the brand.

Finally, the irresistible edge is the brand’s approach to unique decor, music playlists, and things like large, eye-catching murals on walls that help bring a Southern California spirit to wherever a store is built.

On top of its unique traits, Chronic Tacos is future-proofing its franchising model by investing in tech-forward initiatives to improve customer service, customer engagement, and employee retention. The brand views its investment in technology as both a way to streamline operational efficiencies, but also the overall customer experience. In the midst of industry-wide issues with recruiting and retaining employees, Chronic Tacos relies on its ever-evolving tech stack and authentic branding to serve as the cornerstones of becoming an employer of choice. Things like digital training initiatives and text-based recruitment tools onboard the latest generation of employees in a hurry. 

But employee satisfaction and retention also goes back to the “Taco Life” ethos of the brand, Mohammed says.

“We work really hard to create an atmosphere where employees know we want feedback from them, we want to know what’s happening on the ground and their input is valued,” Mohammed says. “It’s just another way the vibe and atmosphere of our restaurant is unique and celebrated and it translates to a place where we have a lot of core employees who have been with us for many, many years because they know they have a voice and opportunities to advance within our organization.” 

Now Chronic Tacos says it’s looking to continue franchising with people excited to serve authentic Mexican food in their community. 

“Our franchisee for an upcoming location, he was telling me that he just cannot wait to begin serving our food,” Mohammed says. “There’s such a sense of pride in the food we serve and the story behind its authenticity. I think it’s a passion for our franchisees—it’s not just burgers out of a bag. The taco life is real.” 

For more on franchising with Chronic Tacos, visit the brand’s franchising page

By Charlie Pogacar

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