Before the burrito was big, both in size and popularity, I remember my friends and I always going to get Mexican cuisine in Chicago. We would seek out places around the city, even going to more nontraditional areas around town, but we loved it; the more authentic, the better. I remember thinking during that time about taking a simplified Mexican menu and placing it in a thriving college town—design it toward a younger audience and see if it would gain some attention.
When we first opened, I did anything necessary for the restaurant: cooking, cleaning, cashier, washing dishes, and using Sundays to pay bills and do payroll. It was a busy time for all of us. What I’m most happy about now is getting a good group of franchisees that are becoming successful. That helps keep our momentum as a brand and grow the right way.
We look at our model, and our brand, as a simple one. It’s always about taking a step back and seeing what we can do better and what we can do different, rather than just focusing on the execution. We do the same with our franchisees, too. We always let them know that the biggest impact they can have is what they do day to day with the customers. I like to operate on subtleties that help us create the best product, rather than on extensive innovation. For example, we started pressing our own tortillas in 1998. Shortly thereafter, we began mixing all of the ingredients of each burrito before rolling it for the customer. It was changing to create the best burrito we could, rather than changing for the sake of doing something different.
I think there is merit in innovating and keeping up with the changing market, but what I always wanted to focus on was making the best product for the customer and, in turn, bringing them back again. You can think you know everything about your brand or your product, but then you can ask key customers and they’ll touch on changes they might like to see. If you can perfect those changes, and realize you might not know it all, it’ll separate your brand from the others.
I was a runner at the Chicago Board Options Exchange.
Carnitas Bowl with black beans, lettuce, jalapeños, salsa verde, guacamole, cheese, and sour cream.
Even if it’s for work most times, I like to travel, and see other towns and areas. Plus I’m a Chicago Bears fan.
I’m a big steak eater, and I like independent, casual restaurants.
I like learning from people who know how to simplify their business, and how to motivate people to understand that.
You can’t save your way to profitability.