business news in context, analysis with attitude

Really good piece in the New York Magazine "Grub Street" column about a new restaurant format with big ambitions:

"At any of Tacombi’s 11 outposts in New York, you can purchase carne-asada tacos and sautéed-mushroom quesadillas or guacamole and cold beer. Inside, the white-tiled rooms are uniformly pleasant. Whether you are at the store on Amsterdam Avenue or Bleecker Street or Austin Street in Forest Hills, you can find the same pineapple agua frescas and pastor breakfast tacos, which are — conveniently — 'served all day!' according to the starburst note on the menu.

"You’d be forgiven for thinking that Tacombi is simply a collection of restaurants. It is that, but it is more than that. Tacombi is a surprisingly efficient delivery and catering operation. Tacombi is very good prepackaged tortillas that you can buy at Whole Foods as well as spicy-chicken burritos in the freezer aisle. Tacombi is a nascent empire, and this year will mark the start of a massive expansion across the country. A year ago, Tacombi announced that it had received $27.5 million in a funding round led by Danny Meyer’s Enlightened Hospitality Investments and revealed it would use that capital to expand to 75 locations over the next five years. Coming soon: Chicago, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Long Island. Tacombi could be the Shake Shack of Mexican food, except Shake Shack is merely a chain with enjoyable fast-food burgers, while Tacombi — according to its founder and CEO, Dario Wolos — is in the business of exporting Mexico to the entire rest of the world."

The Tacombi business model is focused both on its own restaurants and grocery stores as venues in which its products can be purchased.  There also are reflections of the company's original New York City store, which was "never entirely about the food. It was a vibe with its strung-up lights and potted plants and Elizabeth Street customers perched attractively at folding tables on exposed concrete floors."'

Meyer says that "the real value proposition of the company is not simply its tacos or even its tortillas but in its concept of 'Mexican Hospitality,' which … sounds suspiciously similar to 'good service.' Incoming Tacombi employees hear about the company’s 19 core tenets, including “Know Our Menu,” “Offer Guests Your Full Attention & Focus,” and “Be Better Every Day,” which are perhaps not revelatory in concept. But how many companies, really, offer a customer experience that is genuinely pleasant?"

KC's View:

I think this last question is a good one.  

How many companies, really, offer a customer experience that is genuinely pleasant?

I would argue that a lot fewer than the number that tell themselves that they offer a pleasant customer experience.

Tacombi's eyes may be bigger than its stomach, but the ambitions suggest that this could be the kind of format that, to some level, helps to set customer expectations.  For me, any food format that looks to raise people's expectations and educate their palates is a good one.  I'm excited to see that Tacombi is coming to Connecticut - I did a quick check, and see that it will be opening soon in Westport, about a dozen miles from my house and, from all appearances, probably worth the drive.

It also has a cool menu, which you can see here.


It was interesting to read a piece in the New York Times about El Cholo, a landmark Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles that has been around for 100 years, "perpetuating the traditions and the tastes that have made El Cholo a destination for celebrities, college students and generations of Southern California families."

Ron Salisbury, 89, has been presiding over the family-owned company since 1954, and there is a new generation of family members ready to take over.  Salisbury also makes the point that the restaurant continues to innovate - tinkering with recipes in ways that adhere to its traditional values but reflect evolving tastes - and grow.

“It says something that after 100 years, we’re not limping to the finish line,” he says. “We’re doing even more aggressive things, positive things.”

Which is the definition of competition.

Competir es un verbo.