El Restaurante Mexicano Spring 2012 : Page 4

interview UP CLOSE WITH... Ted Stoner I Director of Strategic Product Development Qdoba Mexican Grill n 1995, Anthony Miller and partner Robert Hauser imported San Francisco’s Mission-style burrito to Colorado, opening the fi rst Qdoba Mexican Grill in Denver. The concept immediately won over customers and critics with the restaurant’s Mexican fl avors and fresh ingredients—something the company continues doing today at its more than 600 restaurants throughout the U.S. el Restaurante Mexicano editor Kathleen Furore spoke with Ted Stoner and Lauren Preston, Qdoba’s supervisor of non-traditional marketing and public relations, to discover how the com-pany has grown from such humble beginnings to the fast casual leader it is today. ERM: When Qdoba debuted in Denver in 1995, industry, specifi cally the Mexican segment, changed since 1995? STONER: Customers are defi nitely more savvy. The Food Network, Google...those things have made consumers more educated about food. There is a lot more transparency about ingre-dients, and people are looking for authenticity. They are aware of the ingredients from native Mexico and are demanding more, even in the fast casual and QSR segments. ERM: To what do you attribute your success, even in tough economic times? it was one of the fi rst fast-casual restaurants to feature authentic Mexican food made with fresh ingredients right in front of customers. Did the concept take off right away, or were there challenges the owners had to overcome to make that fi rst location a success? Qdoba’s Chicken Burrito is wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, which the company is rolling out this Spring. STONER: Of course, there were the typical pains—labor, staff, growing the numbers. But the fi rst location was a huge success—and it is still open and growing in sales. The owners did their homework on getting the right place. It was about the real estate then, and it still is about the real estate. Even with 600-plus restau-rants, we still take time to make sure we’re on the right corner! PRESTON: Also, that was when the fast-casual concept was start-ing to take off. People were looking for overall high-quality food but didn’t want to sacrifi ce price point and convenience. So it was the right time to start a Mexican fast casual restaurant. ERM: How has the restaurant STONER: First and foremost, our fresh and fl avorful concept keeps us in the game—it is something we won’t sway from. We have the authentic ingredients customers want—chi-potles, good corn tortillas—and we have been trans fat free for years. If they want to see health information, they can see it online. And we drill down to give them information on the health info for rice vs. rice and beans. During the recession, we also had an LTO with street tacos, and launched our Craft 2 Menu, which lets guests mix and match smaller por-tions of Qdoba’s most popular menu items such as our Naked Burrito, Naked Taco Salad, taco, quesadilla or tortilla soup for around $6. The consumer mindset was, ‘We’ve gotta cut back,’ but customers also wanted something that was healthier and served in smaller portions. We hap-pened to be at the sweet spot —we were offering healthy, fresh food that was a good value, too. ERM: What are some of the items you’ve intro-duced recently, and how do you come up with new ideas for the menu? STONER: We are rolling out our whole wheat tortilla as we speak. It took time to get the nutritionals where we wanted them. Often you’ll see a low-carb tortilla that has more salt, or you’ll get a low-fat tortilla with higher carbs. We needed elasticity to wrap our large burritos, 4 el restaurante mexicano

Interview

<br /> UP CLOSE WITH...Ted Stoner<br /> <br /> In 1995, Anthony Miller and partner Robert Hauser imported San Francisco's Missionstyle burrito to Colorado, opening the first Qdoba Mexican Grill in Denver. The concept immediately won over customers and critics with the restaurant's Mexican fl avors and fresh ingredients-something the company continues doing today at its more than 600 restaurants throughout the U.S.<br /> <br /> el Restaurante Mexicano editor Kathleen Furore spoke with Ted Stoner and Lauren Preston, Qdoba's supervisor of non-traditional marketing and public relations, to discover how the company has grown from such humble beginnings to the fast casual leader it is today.<br /> <br /> ERM: When Qdoba debuted in Denver in 1995, it was one of the first fast-casual restaurants to feature authentic Mexican food made with fresh ingredients right in front of customers. Did the concept take off right away, or were there challenges the owners had to overcome to make that first location a success?<br /> <br /> STONER: Of course, there were the typical pains-labor, staff, growing the numbers. But the first location was a huge success-and it is still open and growing in sales. The owners did their homework on getting the right place. It was about the real estate then, and it still is about the real estate. Even with 600-plus restaurants, we still take time to make sure we're on the right corner!<br /> <br /> PRESTON: Also, that was when the fast-casual concept was starting to take off. People were looking for overall highquality food but didn't want to sacrifice price point and convenience. So it was the right time to start a Mexican fast casual restaurant.<br /> <br /> ERM: How has the restaurant industry, specifically the Mexican segment, changed since 1995?<br /> <br /> STONER: Customers are definitely more savvy. The Food Network, Google...those things have made consumers more educated about food. There is a lot more transparency about ingredients, and people are looking for authenticity. They are aware of the ingredients from native Mexico and are demanding more, even in the fast casual and QSR segments.<br /> <br /> ERM: To what do you attribute your success, even in tough economic times?<br /> <br /> STONER: First and foremost, our fresh and fl avorful concept keeps us in the game-it is something we won't sway from. We have the authentic ingredients customers want-chipotles, good corn tortillas-and we have been trans fat free for years. If they want to see health information, they can see it online. And we drill down to give them information on the health info for rice vs. rice and beans.<br /> <br /> During the recession, we also had an LTO with street tacos, and launched our Craft 2 Menu, which lets guests mix and match smaller portions of Qdoba's most popular menu items such as our Naked Burrito, Naked Taco Salad, taco, quesadilla or tortilla soup for around $6. The consumer mindset was, 'We've gotta cut back,' but customers also wanted something that was healthier and served in smaller portions. We happened to be at the sweet spot -we were offering healthy, fresh food that was a good value, too.<br /> <br /> ERM: What are some of the items you've introduced recently, and how do you come up with new ideas for the menu?<br /> <br /> STONER: We are rolling out our whole wheat tortilla as we speak. It took time to get the nutritionals where we wanted them. Often you'll see a low-carb tortilla that has more salt, or you'll get a low-fat tortilla with higher carbs. We needed elasticity to wrap our large burritos, and we wanted something that was high-fiber but with reduced saturated fat and sodium content.<br /> <br /> PRESTON: The whole wheat tortilla is something our guests have been asking for for quite some time. We're doing this rollout in phases, and it will be available in all Qdoba locations by the end of May.<br /> <br /> ERM: How important has social networking/marketing become to you over the past year or so?<br /> <br /> PRESTON: Social media is a really strong aspect of the way we interact with our customers. We want to be part of the conversation! We have a national presence, but we also have more than 100 local facebook pages. That is important because we can stay engaged with our guests at the local level. That is where our stores can talk about what is happening in their specific locations-things like fundraisers, special events, and announcements about menu items we might be test-marketing. We can't do those kinds of things from one central, national spot.<br /> <br /> ERM: Do you have any advice to give our readers who don't have the same resources as Qdoba about how they can continue innovating and thriving in an increasingly competitive segment of the foodservice market?<br /> <br /> STONER: The number one thing is don't underestimate the power of marketing. Make sure you set people and resources aside tasked to do just that. They can handle your facebook page and be the face of your brand to the local Chamber of Commerce and other groups in your community. They can help you get your food into the mouths of prospective customers at events like church picnics and summer "Taste Of" events. Let the food lead, but get the word out-you can't grow long-term without doing that.

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
 

Loading