Gallery: Inside Rusty Taco >>
Rusty Taco’s fast-casual atmosphere and street-style taco menu last year drew the attention of casual-dining company Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., which bought a majority interest in the brand and is lending its expertise to the seven-unit chain.
Dallas-based Rusty Taco, founded in 2010 in a renovated gas station, is tapping the 1,045-unit Buffalo Wild Wings’ knowledge in real estate and development to prepare the brand for growth.
“We are currently researching markets,” said Steve Dunn, Rusty Taco’s CEO. “One thing that Buffalo Wild Wings has given us is experience and the research and analysis in where we will go and grow.”
Rusty Taco now has five restaurants in Dallas, one in Denver and three in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, which is also home to Buffalo Wild Wings. Two of the Dallas stores are corporate-owned and the other five are franchised.
“Rusty Taco’s fresh approach to tacos truly sets this concept apart,” Kathy Benning, Buffalo Wild Wings’ executive vice president and chief strategy officer, who oversees new business development, said at the time of the investment last year.
“Buffalo Wild Wings’ investment is part of our strategy to partner with emerging restaurant concepts that have the potential for significant growth, can work throughout the country and have a highly engaged management team with a passion to grow the business,” Benning said. Buffalo Wild Wings earlier made a minority investment in Los Angeles-based Pizza Rev.
That original location, which Dunn founded in Dallas with the late Russell “Rusty” Fenton, was 1,900 square feet, and subsequent stores have been in the range of 2,200 square feet to 2,500 square feet, with inside seating of 70 to 100.
“We always prefer to have a patio for outdoor seating,” said Dunn. “We really think our customers like the patio experience.”
The menu offers breakfast and traditional tacos, along with such sides such as guacamole, queso and black beans. Tacos include the Baja Shrimp Taco with red cabbage and cilantro, and the vegetarian Black Bean Taco with pico de gallo, cotija cheese, cilantro and toasted pumpkin seeds.
“We wanted a taco that would be simple and appeal to a broad market,” Dunn said. “There’s enough variety on the menu that it could appeal to anyone.”
Dunn said he wouldn’t divulge check averages, but he said the company works closely with vendors to provide value. Items range upward from $2.25 a piece for breakfast tacos.
The decor is casual, with customers ordering food and beer at the counter and picking up orders as their names are called.
“It’s the sort of place where everyone feels welcome, from the college student to the businessman to the grandmother to the married couple with kids. It’s a relaxing place to go,” Dunn said.
Co-founder Fenton died in June 2013 after a three-year battle with kidney cancer.
“Losing Rusty was difficult,” Dunn said. “But what we got from him was a spirit that’s still in our stories and his passion that’s ingrained in our employees today. We’ve been able to carry on Rusty’s vision of this restaurant.”
As Fenton is quoted on the chain’s website: “Tacos are the most important meal of the day.”