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Capital Tacos features scratch-made food in a family-friendly environment

Retro pinball machines and chalkboard walls are signature elements of the expanding chain.


Capital Tacos might not be an obvious name for a restaurant chain that’s based in Tampa, Fla., which isn’t the capital of anything, and that serves a wide variety of food.

“Tacos are a little bit less than one-third of what we sell,” said Josh Luger, who founded Capital Tacos in 2013 with James Marcus. Both are serial entrepreneurs who worked together at a media startup.

“After our roles wrapped up at the last company we worked at, we knew we wanted to work together … and we wanted something we have a passion for, and we both have a passion for food,” he said.

They saw the Tex-Mex segment as “wide open,” he said. Chipotle Mexican Grill had proved that a chain selling burritos, tacos, and bowls could succeed in a fast-casual format just as Taco Bell had done with similar items in quick-service. But Luger and Marcus saw opportunity if they went a bit more upscale, with scratch-made sauces and proteins that were grilled to order.

Prices are still well within the fast-casual range, with tacos for around $5 and burritos, bowls, and quesadillas around $12–$14.

Today there are eight locations — six in Tampa, including their first franchised location, which opened late last year; one in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park; and a trailer parked on a busy road about 40 miles north of Tampa. But the chain is poised to double in size in the next few months as it enters Atlanta, South Florida, Charlotte, N.C., and Colorado.

One of the Tampa locations is what Luger calls a Capital Tacos Express, and it’s located in a convenience store that also has pizza and dessert concepts.

Luger said the express and trailer formats are part of the chain’s growth strategy and are available to franchisees.

“That’s part of our philosophy of general inclusiveness,” he said. “We don’t want entry points that basically knock off anyone who’s ever worked in the industry, who can’t build up a $1 million or $2 million bankroll.”

Instead, brick-and-mortar locations have an entry point as low as $250,000, and a trailer can be opened for around $100,000.

All of the open brick-and-mortar locations are in spots previously occupied by other restaurants that failed to thrive, which made for a less expensive build-out. Square footage ranges from just over 1,000 to 2,800.

The menu also offers something for everyone, ranging from fairly traditional Tex-Mex such as chicken fajita, ground beef, and carnitas in the format of their choosing — tacos, quesadillas, burritos, bowls, etc. — to South Beach Hot Chicken (their version of Nashville Hot) and cheesesteak. Of course there are also meatless options, such as the Vegan Beast Salad made with spiced and marinated tofu.

Popular sides include Mexican street corn and queso bites, which are frozen queso cubes that are then spiced, breaded and fried.

But what about the name?

“I wish there were a better answer, but we think about it as the capital of tacos,” Luger said. “We wanted to put a bold name down that spoke to what our goal is. We want to be a central part of the communities we’re in and a central part of the conversation around tacos and Tex-Mex. The name Capital Tacos was available and we thought it worked for what our ambition was.”

Part of their commitment to their communities is making the restaurants family-friendly, going beyond kids meals and including a chalkboard wall for kids to play with, and retro pinball and video game machines at each location. An old Pac-Man machine is at the original restaurant.

“It’s another element we can just kind of geek out on,” Luger said.

Vote for Capital Tacos in the Taco Showdown on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

TAGS: Food Trends
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