Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | December 2016 | By Alex Dixon

What Drives the Founder of Torchy’s Tacos

Michael Rypka, who began his career as a fry cook at Popeyes, believes passion is the key to running a successful business.
Michael Rypka, the founder of Torchy’s Tacos, says the fast casual will have 46 locations by the end of the year. Torchy’s Tacos

Being in restaurants is pretty much all I’ve done my whole career. My first job was a fry cook at Popeyes. I was a busboy and a line cook, then I went to a country club, and that’s where I first started following a love of cooking; that’s when I started thinking this could be a fun career. I was an executive chef at the World Bank for about four and a half years. We served food from all over the world, so it gave me a big background in terms of different types of cuisines and nationalities.

With Torchy’s, I wanted to get into business with myself, first and foremost, and I wanted to do something fun with street food. One thing I noticed was that while there were plenty of taco places, there was nobody doing anything fun and innovative with tacos. I felt like that was a good niche to hit. If we could take the taco and elevate it, but still stick to that street-food culture, we could do pretty well.

We’ve always kept the focus on the food, making sure that we’re serving damn good tacos. It’s a duty to get the best-sourced products you can and preparing it in a way that you get the healthiest, cleanest food you can. We work really hard at our traceability. We know where our coffee beans come from; we know where our green chilies come from; we know what farms our chickens come from and where our beef is coming from. It’s really important having that relationship with your vendors and in your restaurant.

We’re passionate about what we do. I think the passion has got to be there to be a successful business. We look for employees who are fun and who have good work ethic. Our stores are busy, so we need people who are willing to work hard. We want people to be themselves; we’re not looking for robots. Sometimes experience is a good factor, but not always a key factor in hiring people. I’d rather take somebody who has the right attitude and teach them.

We’ll have 46 locations by the end of the year. I imagine we’ll venture to other states. Nashville keeps coming up as a possible next spot, but we’re not totally sure of when that’s going to happen.


What was your first job?

I was a fry cook at Popeyes.

What’s your favorite menu item at Torchy’s?

I have two: the Green Chile Pork and the Baja Shrimp.

What is your favorite restaurant or type of food, excluding Torchy’s?

I love Uchiko [fine-dining sushi and small plates] here in Austin, Texas.

What menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

Probably our Green Chile Pork. It’s pretty epic; people just love it.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I like to road-bike, see live music, try new restaurants—things like that.

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