Torchy’s Tacos knows how to talk trash to good effect.
The Austin, Texas-based fast-casual concept, known for its Trailer Park taco ordered “trashy” — hold the lettuce and substitute queso — remained a popular item as the brand grew during the pandemic, adding 12 restaurants in 2020 and 16 in 2021. Torchy’s now has 106 units in 15 states.
That Trailer Park taco, with fried chicken, green chiles, lettuce, pico de gallo, cheddar-jack cheese and poblano sauce on a flour tortilla, still is a best-seller, said Mike Rypka, Torchy’s CEO who founded the concept as a food truck in 2006.
Rypka said Torchy’s has ratcheted back its growth plans for 2022 because of permitting and construction hurdles and landlord delays.
“Local municipalities are kind of dealing with their own headwinds,” Rypka said. “Originally we were going to open more like 16–18 units this year. Now we're closer to 12–14, and all of that slippage has been out of our control.” He said the brand plans to grow 10–15% a year.
Rypka, who reassumed the CEO position officially in May, said the brand continues to meet the guests where they're at.
“We’ve been about focusing on the basics,” he said. “Restaurant 101: damn good food, damn good hospitality, damn good shifts.”
As it did for many fast-casual restaurants, the COVID-19 pandemic altered Torchy’s off-premises sales mix.
“Pre-pandemic, we were 80% dine-in and 20% to-go,” Rypka said. After it was briefly 100% off-premises, “we got back to sort of a 50-50 mix recently. I think with all the vaccinations and after the Omicron surge, we're kind of trending more to that 60% dine-in and 40% off-premises.”
That has made order speed and accuracy even more important to customer satisfaction, he added.
“It's harder to recover a guest once the order has left your store,” Rypka said. “In the store, you can make a table visit.”
Mike Rypka will be speaking at CREATE: The Future of Foodservice in Denver, taking place Sept. 19-21.
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