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District Taco founder Osiris Hoil with Hicham El Abbassi and Isalmou Boussaa.

District Taco’s first franchisees win International Franchise Association award

Hicham El Abbassi and Isalmou Boussaa immigrated from Morocco to become American entrepreneurs and now own 12 District Taco stores

If founders, chefs and other creatives are the beating heart of the restaurant industry, then franchisees are the veins delivering their ideas to all corners of the globe. Franchising is critical to the success of the industry, allowing brands to quickly scale their big ideas using other people’s capital. And whether it’s a mom-and-pop restaurant owner with one or two franchised restaurants or a seasoned veteran whose influence in the industry is well-known, franchisees — with all their individual attributes, styles and personalities — make a huge impact on the success of a business.

In this week’s installment of Franchisee Spotlight, we spoke with Hicham El Abbassi and Isalmou Boussaa, cofounders of DT NOVA: the first District Taco franchisee with 12 restaurants under its belt. DT NOVA was recently the recipient of an International Franchise Association Franchisee of the Year award.

We spoke with El Abbassi and Boussaa about their journey from immigrating from Morocco, to becoming Five Guys employees, and eventually business owners themselves.

Store count: 12 District Taco locations and 11 Five Guys locations, mostly in Northern Virginia

From Five Guys to District Taco

Hicham: We both started as crew members at Five Guys back in 2000, [and made our way up to] manager, then shift managers, general managers, trainers. Then, in 2013 we became Five Guys franchisee and we started looking for different opportunities. District Taco came into play back in 2016. We're just walking by one of the restaurants and we decided to go there to eat lunch. I really like the food really enjoyed the atmosphere…. We asked the manager back then to see if they were franchising and that started in 2016, though we didn't hear back until 2021.

Isalmou: We had the chance to wear pretty much every hat that you can think of at Five Guys. We bought three Five Guys stores, and then eventually we had close to 11 stores. In 2016, when we tried District Taco, we liked the energy, and thought it was similar to Five Guys. We liked the simplicity of the way they execute their food and operations…. Then in 2021, they said, “We're ready. Let's make it happen.”

Becoming award honorees

Hicham: It is an honor for us to get this award, especially being the only franchisees for the brand. The collaboration we currently have with District Taco and their team, and being able to share our knowledge that we know from our experience as franchisees sharing our knowledge that we know, you know, from our experience as franchisees and helping each other grow the brand.

Immigration experience

Hicham: We feel like it's a great accomplishment and being able to come [to this country] and start from the ground up from crew members to being franchisees. This award is an honor for us. We’re living the American dream

Isalmou: We also like the idea of the story behind District Taco's success. The founder is from Mexico, so it's a similar story to ours. 

Goals for the future

Hicham: We have more stores to develop: three more locations in the D.C. metro area, and we want to develop in Florida between Orlando and Tampa with what we, we have, we have three locations, three more locations in the DMV area. And we have fought to develop in Florida, between Orlando and Tampa, and that will be 40 or more stores.

Biggest challenges

Isalmou: In this moment, the biggest challenge is real estate. It has been a challenge to get an A-plus location. I think equipment was an issue as well, and making sure we receive it in time. But lately, we’re seeing the estimated times of arrival [for equipment] decrease after the pandemic.

Secret to success

Isalmou: From our beginnings working at the corporate level with Five Guys and seeing and helping potential franchisees open their own stores, I think the secret is being an owner and operator at the same time. You cannot be an absentee franchisee and think magic will happen I think being an owner and also working in the store is the recipe for success. Of course you have to marry the right brand. The good thing about Five Guys and District Taco is you don’t have to sell the food—the food sells itself. All you need to do is make sure you take care of the employees, or come and clean, and engage with the customers, and then good things will happen.

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