For more than 25 years, TacoTime has been welcoming people whose mouths are watering for good Mexican food.
These days, the company is also extending a welcome to ambitious entrepreneurs looking for a franchise opportunity built on the public’s growing taste for nicely spiced, well-prepared Mexican food.
As president of TacoTime Canada for more than 10 years, Ken Pattenden knows Mexican food – and loves it. He has even served some of his favourite TacoTime meals to people on a street in Mexico – a risky adventure he’s happy to report ended with acclaim from the Mexicans.
Over the years, he has introduced expanded menus in TacoTime’s familiar food-court and drive-through restaurants, and created a new style of restaurant – the TacoTime Cantina, in which the tacos, burritos, fajitas, wraps, nachos and other picante delights are prepared in front of the customers, allowing them to choose types of tortillas, sauces and add-ons such as sour cream and guacamole. Their Mexican meal can be topped off with a Mexican beer or Sangria, and enjoyed in an authentic Mexican surrounding.
Canadians’ fondness for Mexican food, especially in the West, makes this a prime market for a would-be restaurant owner.
Of course, nothing’s stopping such a person from setting up shop independently without a franchise deal. Nothing, that is, except the immense risk that comes from a lack of experience, expert advice and recipes fine-tuned during decades of experience. And there’s the matter of ingredients.
“That’s very important, especially with Mexican food – the ability to source spices, tortillas, things that are integral to a Mexican menu on a cost-effective basis,” Pattenden explains.
“For example, there is nobody in Canada that makes a hand-stretched tortilla. If you were starting off from scratch, you simply wouldn’t even be able to source that.”
For the benefit of those who haven’t been to Mexico City or Chihuahua and seen the agile hands of those remarkable women turning masa harina flour into thin, flat tortillas, such individually crafted tortillas are one of the subtle secrets of authentic Mexican cuisine.
TacoTime has contracted for 25 years with a manufacturer who provides that product consistently and at a good price.
Then there are the spices. They’re crucial to a Mexican restaurant, whose customers demand consistency, variety and a choice of hotness level, especially in the sauces.
“You might try starting from scratch with hot sauces, but to be able to do that and replicate them at different locations and at different times, the chances of doing that well are really slim.
“So, with our franchise, you can start selling good Mexican food immediately as opposed to good Mexican food three years down the road after you’ve figured out what you’re doing.”
Another advantage of a TacoTime franchise is the company’s extensive body of market research.
In one project about a year ago, Pattenden set out to learn about Calgarians’ perceptions of Mexican food and its country of origin.
Using a blind test so the participants weren’t sure what data was being gathered, the research company asked for a wide variety of responses.
At one point, the people were shown cards with different international food types and asked to rank them.
The highest score was for Mexican food. But when asked where they’d go to find it, many couldn’t come up with an answer.
“Obviously there was a big difference between desire and the ability to fulfil that desire in a Mexican eating establishment in Calgary,” Pattenden says, adding that he believes the research is just as valid for Edmonton and other parts of the West.
“The one product that was picked by everybody as being their idea of the ideal Mexican meal was our casita burrito platter, which we’ve been selling in our stores for 15 years. Yet that product probably didn’t exceed 1.5 per cent of sales.”
So why didn’t the participants connect the dots and name Taco Time as the place to buy that meal?
“The big difference was that the food was all laid out on a plate as opposed to people’s perceptions of fast food – of being wrapped up in wax paper.”
That was one of the motivations for the Cantina-style TacoTime restaurants, although food courts and drive-throughs remain strong performers.
Above all, Pattenden considers TacoTime a Mexican restaurant first and a fast-food or casual dining outlet second. And it’s real Mexican, not Tex-Mex. The best franchise opportunities, he says, are in Edmonton, but there are others as well.
“Anybody who has any interest in being in the food business – and if Mexican food has some interest for them – then we’re really the only guys in Western Canada that are doing it.”