If customers are determined to order traditional Mexican street tacos in a commonplace setting, Condado Tacos may not be the perfect fit.
The brand, based in Columbus, Ohio, is unorthodox from the menu to the ambiance — in ways that have made the full-service concept a smash success since it first launched in 2014. Graffiti art adorns the walls of its 42 locations, while tacos feature outside-the-box ingredients and flavors and the bar menu extends far beyond its fresh-made margaritas.
Chris Artinian, president and CEO of Condado, said brand founder Joe Kahn set out to open a taco joint that had broad appeal with a “unique and creative atmosphere.”
“It’s really about creating this atmosphere of celebrating individuality and come as you are,” he said. “That creates an environment where you can just be your best version of yourself, which really feeds into the fun and creativity of the food.”
Artinian said Condado offers menu options with a “flair for spice and flavors,” comparing it to “the coolness of Taco Bell flavors” but “on steroids.” The extensive taco menu features options like the Korean BBQ (double-decker soft-flour and hard-corn shells with smoked cheddar queso, slow-roasted pulled pork, gochujang barbecue sauce, pickled jalapeños, and pineapple salsa), the Braised + Confused (soft flour shell with rice, braised beef brisket, jicama and cabbage slaw, pickled red onions, queso fresco, and chipotle crema), and the Bad Habit (a “Ju-Ju” shell with tequila-lime steak, rice, lettuce, pico de gallo, queso fresco, Mexican chimichurri, and habanero-mango sauce). Several tacos feature a “Kewl Ranch” shell.
There are also plant-based tacos and kids’ options, with multiple quesos, guacamoles, and salsas as sides, plus nachos and Mexican street corn. Guests can also customize their own tacos, bowls, or nachos.
Artinian said Condado’s focused menu helps it maintain fast service, which lets customers choose from among a variety of experiences, both dine-in and off-premises. Dine-in business today accounts for about 70% of sales, he said, while off-premises is quickly growing.
“So if you want you can come in on a Friday night, enjoy your time with a great margarita, enjoy some friends and spend an hour or an hour and a half or two hours, however long you want,” he said. “We can facilitate that, and we make it a place that has those options through a sit-down environment with a full offering of tequilas and margaritas along with the broader spirit offerings. But also [we feature] the speed and convenience of being able to go as fast if not faster than our competitors in fast casual or even quick serve.”
Artinian adds that Condado’s tacos begin around $4, which helps it compete with limited-service concepts on the value level as well.
Condado Tacos has expanded out from its Ohio base into Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. The company expects to open about 12 locations per year going forward.
To accommodate that growth, Artinian said, Condado has looked closely at how to become more efficient in its operations. That’s included leveraging hand-held POS systems for pay-at-the-table service, as well as back-of-house technology like kitchen display systems (KDS). The brand is even testing a Flippy Light robot that sautés tortilla chips.
“We've seen product become more consistent and … we are estimating that this could take 7 to 10 hours a day out … of the back of the house,” he said of the robot, noting that it will help make Condado’s labor model more efficient. That should boost retention, he added, leveraging “technology in those ways to take some complexity out of the business but [allowing] us to also reinvest in the people that we have in our business as well.”