Austin Samuelson is the Co-founder of Tacos 4 Life Grill, a restaurant chain devoted to fighting world hunger through their Meal4Meal program in partnership with Feed My Starving Children. Austin has a bachelor’s degree in finance.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Austin Samuelson talks about how he got into restaurant ownership with zero food service experience
- What is the mission behind Tacos 4 Life and Meal4Meal
- Austin recalls how a visitor at his church began his journey against childhood starvation
- What defines the experience and atmosphere of Tacos 4 Life
- Austin’s shift to franchising and building their outreach further
In this episode…
In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen speaks with Austin Samuelson about Tacos 4 Life and the mission to fight childhood starvation. Austin started this venture with his wife, Ashton, and talks about the life experiences that led the two of them to create a restaurant chain that can feed starving children worldwide.
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Chad Franzen 0:20
Chad Frandsen here co host for the show where we feature top restaurant tours investors and business leaders. This is part of our spot on series. Spot on has the best in class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called spot on restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They serve everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and Subway to small mom and pop restaurants. To learn more, go to spot on.com This episode is brought to you by Rise25. We help b2b businesses to get ROI clients referrals and strategic partnerships through done for you podcast. If you have a b2b business and want to build great relationships with clients, referral partners and thought leaders in your space, there is no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more go to Rise25media.com or email us at support@Rise25media.com. Austin Samuelson co-founded Tacos 4 Life a little more than 10 years ago, with 20 locations in six states. Tacos 4 Life specializes in serving fresh quality menu items in a relaxed, quirky environment. For every taco, quesadilla, salad, or rice bowl purchase from Tacos 4 Life. The restaurant donates 24 cents to Feed My Starving Children. And it’s a nonprofit organization committed to ending childhood starvation. So it’s opening their first location in June of 2014, Tacos 4 Life restaurants have donated over 21 million meals. Austin, thank you so much for joining me today. How are you?
Austin Samuelson 1:41
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on Chad. Yeah, there’s
Chad Franzen 1:44
a lot to get into here. So let me just get started with this question. No, prior prior to Tacos 4 Life, what was your experience in the restaurant industry?
Austin Samuelson 1:54
It was sitting in the drive thru sitting in the dining room, a lot of a lot of visits only as a customer, though, so very little, actually no restaurant experience from behind the counter or in the kitchen or any of that.
Chad Franzen 2:09
Okay, so. So did you have any? So did you have any experience even as an owner or anything like that?
Austin Samuelson 2:15
None whatsoever. This, this whole journey is? You know, if you would have asked me, you know, 12, let’s say we’ve, we’ve been on this journey for 11 years now, almost almost 11 years in January, if you would have asked me 11 years and six months ago, if I would, if I would be in this position and own restaurants today, I would have laughed at you and said no, what are you talking about? There’s no way you know, not that I didn’t want to I just was not on the radar. And God had different plans for us. And as I’m sure we’ll get into here in a minute, it really all comes from mission. And that’s what that’s what drew us to this. And now we love it. I absolutely love the restaurant industry. And it’s wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Chad Franzen 2:58
What is it about the restaurant industry that appeals to you?
Austin Samuelson 3:01
Oh, my goodness, I’m all about the experience and the food and trying to create a just something that that people. So what we do with our food with our tacos, our goal from a menu innovation standpoint is we want to create craveable food. And so we want to do that. And then we spend a lot of time with our environment and trying to tell a story inside the restaurants. And so we’ve put a lot of time investment and intentionality into the decor in the look and the feel of our restaurant. So this experience that you get with the food, and then what you get in the dining experience. And then also, with our mission of inviting our guests on this journey to help us end world Starvation is you package all three of those elements together. And it’s just it’s an it’s a ton of fun. It’s a lot of fun.
Chad Franzen 3:49
So it is it’s clearly a mission driven organization. And it started out that way from day one.
Austin Samuelson 3:54
Yeah, absolutely. So the long story short and up to this basically, I was working in commercial real estate, my wife was teaching school. We’re living in Southern California, and this is in 2009. And we we started getting involved with feeding at a homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles Union Rescue Mission and sort of doing that. There was a group of homeless people that lived we live pretty close to the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. And there was a group there and there’s one lady in particular that Ashton, my wife, got to know she just rolled the window down and talk to her and that’s just Ashton, she everybody is a friend and someone she’s known her whole life, you know. And so we just started getting involved from a local standpoint with hunger. And then about around that same time. There’s a gentleman that came to the church we’re going to and his name is Rich Stearns. He’s the CEO of World Vision and big organization that does work all over the world. And, and he came and he said a few things. it to us that day in church, he said. So the first thing is today, and this is in 2009. So this statistic is outdated. But he said, today 18,000 children are going to die from starvation. And, you know, we knew hunger was a problem, you know, this thing, starvation is a problem. But I’d never heard it like that before. Just it just hit us in the face. And he said, that happened yesterday. And it’s gonna happen tomorrow, if we don’t do something about it. The other thing that he said, that really kind of challenged us was he said, our planet produces more than enough food to feed every person. It’s a distribution problem. And then the third and final thing he said, and we were in a church, so he’s speaking to a, you know, a setting of church goers. But he said, you know, if, if folks just in America that go to church would do something small we could we could solve this and we could see a day when that number of 18,000 children dying simply because they don’t have food to eat, we could see that day going to zero, we UNICEF World Vision. All the all the big organizations. Yeah, you know, everybody agrees that, you know, hunger is the world’s most solvable problem. It’s just a matter of, you know, awareness and distribution. And that really is what started this journey. It. It didn’t happen overnight, that planted a seed with Ashton and I and over the course of two years, we kind of embarked on this journey of okay, how can we be a part of helping end hunger helping see a day when children don’t die simply because they can’t get food. And it really, it didn’t start with this idea of let’s open a restaurant and started with Let’s donate, let’s volunteer, let’s do all those things. But we just kept having this passion and wanted to do more. And it ultimately ultimately led to that was at the same time when Tom Shoes was really, you know, taking off and really popular. And so going back to your first question, Chad, of my experience in the restaurant industry, having never worked in a restaurant, I was thinking about Tom Shoes, and I thought, man, if these guys can, you know, sell a pair of shoes and give a pair of shoes away? Why can’t somebody do that in the restaurant space? Like like why that should be so easy, right? And that just showed my ignorance there. But that’s what started this journey. And so that question started in January of 2011. We ended up opening our first restaurant is called Pitza 42 as a pizza restaurant in September of 2011, here in Conway Arkansas, and with that whole mindset of donating a meal every time we sold a meal. And so that’s what started this whole journey. And it eventually morphed into Tacos 4 Life as we grew and pivoted and so forth. So that’s what that’s what took two folks that never had plans. Never worked in a restaurant for but got us into this. And we absolutely love it now.