What do Miami-based Cuban rapper Pitbull, a line of homemade salsas, and a Mexican immigrant’s business success story have in common? They are all elements of the growth journey of Cilantro Taco Grill: a 15-unit fast-casual taco chain that is continuing on to the next phase of its expansion journey in partnership with Fransmart, with hopes of opening 1,000 locations over the next decade.
As a child, Cilantro Taco Grill founder/owner Temoc Morfin immigrated to Chicago from Guadalajara, Mexico with his parents and 10 siblings, despite the dangers and challenges of surviving and thriving during the journey. As an adult, Morfin was inspired by his community to open the first Cilantro Taco Grill location in 2013. Now, a decade later, Morfin has announced that the brand is beginning franchising and is specifically targeting Latino communities to seek out potential franchisees so that they can have an American dream success story of their own.
“If you travel throughout the United States, whether you're on vacation or business, you’ll see Latinos, cleaning rooms, bussing restaurants, and cleaning pools – Latinos are the engine of the business, but they’re not owning the business,” Morfin said. “It’s time that we give people an opportunity to own businesses…. Throughout the United States you see a lot of taquerias popping up everywhere, but there’s no strong franchising model for authentic Mexican restaurants. Then of course, you have Chipotle, but they’re not really Latino.”
Chipotle was actually an inspiration for Morfin as he first created his concept in 2013—he was inspired by the burrito chain’s large-scale influence and success but wanted to replicate that with more of an authentic Mexican brand. As Morfin first opened Cilantro Taco Grill in Chicago with help from some of his sisters, he knew that they had to differentiate the brand from other taqueria concepts.
With a menu of familiar Mexican classics like tacos al pastor and barbacoa, burritos, tortas, and guacamole, one of the ways Cilantro Taco Grill stands out is with its line of housemade salsas. While they offer a classic salsa verde and salsa roja, the brand also offers up its famous jalapeno house salsa, and other unique offerings like a pineapple habanero salsa. Most of Cilantro Taco Grill’s salsas are offered in-store, but they are also sold as CPG products online.
As Cilantro Taco Grill began its franchising journey with Fransmart, Morfin said that it was crucial to reach the Latino communities both in the Chicagoland area and beyond.
“Some of my employees have expressed interest, and are like, ‘how can I open up a location? How can I how can I do this instead?’—And I say, if I if I did it, you can do it and anybody can do it,” Morfin said. “I consider myself reaching the American dream, because we come to this country…. I was the first in my family to get a college education, and I set my mind to achieving my goals….I want to transmit that message to anybody – not only Latinos but anybody --- that the opportunities here in this country are endless.”
One of the more atypical aspects of Morfin’s entrepreneurial story is his partnership with American rapper and hip-hop artist Armando Christian Pérez, aka Pitbull. Pitbull got involved with the company after meeting met Dan Rowe, CEO and founder of Fransmart after speaking at a panel at a restaurant conference. After the panel, Pitbull introduced himself and asked why he thinks so many Latino restaurants are owned by non-Latino business owners? That question led to a commitment to invest in Mexican and Latin-owned restaurant brands with a compelling story, great food, and potential for expansion through franchising. The first of these partnerships is with Temoc Morfin and Cilantro Taco Grill.
“The food is clearly amazing, but what I was drawn to more than anything was the story,” Pitbull said. “It was the story of working hard, grinding, sacrificing, and taking [this restaurant] to the next level. When we sat down together and shared stories of what our families went through to be able to fight for that slice of American pie, that to me is the tender loving care that they put into their food….That’s why I was drawn to this partnership.”
As both an investor in the brand and a public face for Cilantro Taco Grill to lean on moving forward, Pitbull hopes that this will not be the only Latino-owned restaurant to gain traction in the franchising industry and that it will help to tilt the scales of Latinos getting more involved in the foodservice industry from an ownership standpoint.
With 15 locations under his belt and three more under construction, Morfin has his hands full with creating a blueprint for the future of the Cilantro Taco Grill brand.
“Our ultimate goal is to help other families become successful with what we have going,” Morfin said. “We want to open it up to anyone interested in in becoming part of the family.”
Contact Joanna at [email protected]