What Inspires Tacos 4 Life Cofounder Austin Samuelson

    His company was borne out of philanthropic efforts. 

    Austin Samuelson, Cofounder, Tacos 4 Life
    Tacos 4 Life
    Austin Samuelson said 'it wasn't ever a thought' to stop donating amid the pandemic.

    My wife Ashton and I heard the statistic that 18,000 children were dying every day from starvation and malnutrition, and that just totally wrecked our world. About two years later, after a lot of research, this idea popped into my head. TOMS Shoes was very popular at that time. I was like, if somebody could do that with a shoe company, why couldn’t somebody do that with food?

    We opened a small pizza restaurant about nine months after that initial thought hit us, and we donated a pizza for every pizza we sold. It was a simple one-for-one model, and we got to donate about 250 meals a day. After two-and-a-half years doing that, we started wrestling with how we could expand this mission to a different style of food. Tacos were great; we donate a meal for every taco we sell, and if you’re like me, you’re probably going to get two tacos, so we get to donate two meals as opposed to one off of a pizza. And that’s what led to Tacos 4 Life.

    At the end of the day, we are a for-profit business. What that means for us, very tactically speaking, is we have to be that much more competitive on how we handle our food and labor and our middle of the P&L. We have to work that much harder, because we have a percent that’s coming right off the top to go toward this mission.

    There was about a six-month period there from March to September where things were pretty bleak. We were able to look at our team and our board and say we still donated close to half a million meals and got to feed a ton of kids. It wasn’t ever a thought to stop donating during COVID. It is the “why.” It’s why every person in this office is here. It’s why every person in our restaurants comes in every day and works so hard. So it became that rallying cry for us.

    Our team has worked so hard and really changed and adapted so quickly. And I think when you get knocked back in the corner and you look around and you’re like, “I love being with each of these people. We can win this battle,” you kind of feel like you can conquer the world.


    What was your first job?

    Construction for my dad in the fifth grade.

    What’s your favorite menu item at Tacos 4 Life?

    The Fried Chicken Taco, Korean BBQ Taco, and a side of refried beans.

    What’s your favorite cuisine outside of Tacos 4 Life?

    Sushi.

    Who inspires you as a leader?

    Jesus. He cut straight to the point: Love others.

    What’s the best piece of advice other restaurant executives should hear?

    Assume the best in others.

    What are some of your interests outside of work?

    Anything water-related, at the lake or the beach.