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Mo AssiExperienced Chef and restaurateur Mo Assi is the Founder of Crush Taco, a fast-casual taco shop with two locations in Frisco, Texas. Mo’s impressive career as an executive chef for some of the most recognized fine dining restaurants in the nation allowed him to develop his skills and create his very own restaurant brand. He’s passionate about growing his business and creating a blend of Mexican-inspired flavors for a unique culinary experience.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Mo Assi discusses the differences between opening a restaurant and building a brand
  • What is the pillar of a restaurant business?
  • Mo’s insights on pursuing business growth in multiple locations
  • The importance of developing a more versatile skill set alongside your brand

In this episode…

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen is joined by Mo Assi, veteran Chef and Founder of Crush Taco. They discuss the various career paths for restaurateurs, the operational differences between running a restaurant and creating a brand, recognizing business scaling opportunities, and how to reliably and effectively develop your skill set in the restaurant industry.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:04

Welcome to the Top Business Leaders Show powered by Rise25 Media. We feature top founders, executives and business leaders from all over the world

Chad Franzen 0:20

Chad Franzen here co-host for the show where we feature top restaurant tours, investors and business leaders. This is part of our SpotOn Series. SpotOn has the best-in-class payment platform for retail and they have a flagship solution called SpotOn Restaurant, where they combine marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve sorted everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen and subway to small mom-and-pop restaurants. To learn more, go to 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 referrals and thought leaders in your space. There’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more go to or email us at Mo Assi is a 20 year veteran in the restaurant business. He built his bones on the steakhouse business working for some of the nation’s most iconic steak houses like The Capitol Grille and Lowry’s The Prime Rib. He founded Crush Taco, a Baja Mex style taco shop in 2016. And now has two locations in Frisco, Texas. He plans to create a local presence and then grow into a national restaurant brand. Hey, MO. Thanks for joining me. How are you?

Mo Assi 1:31

Good. How are you?

Chad Franzen 1:32

Good. Thank you. Hey, so tell me a little bit more about Crush Tacos. And what a customer might expect when going there?

Mo Assi 1:39

Yeah, so Crush Taco is a fast-casual taco concept. created five years ago, we’ve been around going on our sixth year now, when a customer would expect when they walked in to Crush Taco for the first time. You know, I think that’s a good question. Customers don’t know what to expect when they walk into Crush Taco. I hear it all time. First time here. What do I order and you would not typically ask a question of a more traditional style Mexican restaurant or a sorry, a taco restaurant, you would walk in anticipating what you were going to order before you got there. With Crush Taco we blend many different types of flavors. Bring in worldly cuisine, we really use the tortilla as a vessel. Right. So some of our signature items been conflict crusted shrimp, buffalo chicken in the Baja fish taco. We have, you know, huge California burrito that we offer. We have a rice bowl, salad bowl, we offer breakfast, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we offer different types of features. My favorite feature, which we’re running this month, is the pickle-inspired talk. So it’s better not fried chicken, deep fried, pickles, fresh crinkle cut pickles on top, our homemade ranch on top. So that is the type of cuisine that we surround ourselves around, it’s really not even honed into one specific type of cuisine. It is really all over the place. honed in more with our style, right? So when guests come in, you know, they’re automatically drawn to the menu and what do I get? After that, you know, more of a season guests would come in, and they have the shrimp taco, which is our most popular typically, and we created the features so that we gave the guest something that they order all the time. We this is your standard order. But you know, try something new. It’s a vibrant place. It’s a fast-casual concept, meaning you walk up to the counter you order. We have festival Margarita machines, we have on any given time. 30 different types of important local beers. So it’s a really fun place. Again, very vibrant. very bright, very open concept, if you will.

Chad Franzen 3:59

Yeah, so as I mentioned in your introduction, you had worked in steak houses. And then you had this kind of idea to come up with a fast-casual, pretty diverse taco restaurants come about?

Mo Assi 4:12

Yeah, so you know, typically when you ask a chef for a restaurant tour, you know, typically chefs and ask them where they want to do everybody wants to open a restaurant. And for me, I don’t know if I ever wanted to open a restaurant per se. As I went throughout my career working in the steak houses. It is slowly starting to become more of a dream to open a restaurant. But again, I never wanted to open a restaurant I always knew I was going to start a brand okay and there’s a difference there you can have a single restaurant one or two restaurants and create some amazing food and, and that’s really the extent of it. But for us I wanted to create something we could take national And I know Crush Tacos, get the legs to do that. And from day one, developing this concept, I knew I was going to develop it around something that could grow. And people always didn’t say why tacos will really I just took a look at the area and the demographic and what we had available. You know. And being in the suburbs, you had your classic fast food, fast-casual restaurants, you had your, you know, your McDonald’s, or Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A and everything in between. You had a few restaurants that were more of your sit down, not necessarily, you know, you had every thing from fast food, and then jumped over to fine dining, but nothing really in the middle. So that’s what I was trying to achieve is achieving them middle. And with tacos, I knew that was something that was lacking in the area. And I wanted something that would create a perceived value, nothing that you know was going to be, you know, just so quick that we’re slapping things together. I wanted to have some more thought behind it. You know, the cornflake crusted shrimp is a dish that I’ve had in a restaurant here in Dallas that I thought would go really great in a taco. You know, the buffalo chicken taco was probably the first taco we put on the menu. Buffalo Chicken is something I really liked. Typically, I have it as a winger, I have it as a sandwich. Why not as a taco, the fried chicken a lotay, which is our number two most popular taco, you know, handmade buttermilk, fried chicken, we fry every day, all day. Throughout the shift, we go through hundreds, hundreds of pounds of fried chicken with the Mexican-inspired creamed corn on top. So again, very unique there, but really the flavors work. And that was the type of restaurant that I was that I wanted to start. And when it came to tacos, again, it was the specific taco or the specific cuisine. It was something that I felt the city needed, and more so wanted, right? Sure. And it’s all a risk. You know, creating a brand from nothing from scratch is difficult in proved, proved to be the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done in my career.

Chad Franzen 7:37

Yeah, I was I was that was gonna be my next question. Actually. Tell me about the process of kind of opening your first location and how that went.

Mo Assi 7:43

Yeah, so once we decided that Frisco, Texas was going to be the spot. Then what was a dream? Probably a few years before we actually opened, turned into a goal and turned into a deadline and then turned into opening day. So when I worked for restaurants in the steak houses in the past, when I worked for Capital Grille I do I help in the opening for Garden City, I helped with the funding in Memphis. So when you were part of this opening team, you’re assisting in, in developing the million dollar restaurants, you feel like doing a smaller restaurant have half the size, it’s not fine dining, it’s fast-casual, we’re serving everything majority of what we’re doing is to go in if it’s not to go, we’re using a lot of disposable disposable forks, daily paper, etc. This should be a no brainer, this should be super simple. It was the complete opposite of that. Where my experience came in, was with the food. And a lot of times in his business, we forget that critical piece, the restaurant business, right. And that is where I felt, you know, through my whole career, I was a chef and I created these great dishes. And I, you know, tried to manage food costs somewhat labor, but you know, when you working for these big brands, the sales are there in sales girl, you know, whenever it’s your own restaurant, there’s more emphasis on your prime cost and managing those prime costs. Well, you don’t have the resources that you once had. You know, you don’t have the resources to reach out to your director, your corporate entity and say, Hey, I’m trying to reach this, this percentage I’m having issues. Can we set some time aside to talk about how to reach my goals? When It’s you It’s you you And that was a really difficult part. Because when things went south, and in the beginning, when we open, we didn’t have that infrastructure we didn’t have, I mean, somewhat had recipes, didn’t have an idea what the business was going to bring didn’t have an idea of what labor we needed. Food was okay. So there was a lot of on the fly man, energy, you know, putting out fires on a daily basis, I literally had my laptop on the cutting board, creating recipes, systems on and on. And I unlocked and open that, you know, opened and unlocked that place and close it for three years straight. I mean, there was nothing else that I was doing, I was 100% dedicated, and still 100% dedicated to the growth of the brand. And you know, there was struggles, the first six months were just a, just a beat down. And there’s no real way to put it, you know, being in being your own boss, or, you know, owning your own business. You know, it’s like, going round and round, you know, in a boxing ring. Here’s taking hits, and in the in the rounds never end, right. Being in the restaurant business and having your own business, it’s like put a lion in that rank. And that’s, that’s what it’s like on a daily basis. So it gets better, you know, it’s not it’s not a drag, right. But it takes a lot of work to get better. Is it easy? No, but does it get easier? Yes. Now, fast forward. Six years later, there was a lot of things that we learned, and that we’re we’re continuing to learn as we grow. We have our second restaurant here in Frisco. Now. We our goal is to get it within five years. And we celebrated our fifth year anniversary through December 21. We open two months later at our second location. So second location is going well doing well. I would say that it’s operating probably at a three year level of work Crush Taco began. So it’s got that head start on the first one kind of paved the way. And this one is following suit. Great.

In this episode of the SpotOn Series, Chad Franzen is joined by Mo Assi, veteran Chef and Founder of Crush Taco. They discuss the various career paths for restaurateurs, the operational differences between running a restaurant and creating a brand, recognizing business scaling opportunities, and how to reliably and effectively develop your skill set in the restaurant industry.

Chad Franzen 12:19

Hey, you mentioned that you mentioned you started early, you throw in the phrase when things went south. What were some things specifically that maybe you did to turn things around, and then eventually kind of, you know, gain momentum up to the point where you’re ready to expand? Were there some things that you learned on the fly that really helped you?

Mo Assi 12:37

Yeah, and really, I had to learn everything on the on the fly. Because we were we were in the red. Honestly, for the first six months, we were taking the hit first month, second month, third month, fourth month, fifth month, and it’s like, Okay, we got to stop the bleeding here. And in the restaurant, you know, you’ve got your prime costs and things you can really manage being your food cost your labor, your liquor, beer and wine, we were more of a margarita and beer type atmosphere. So it’s more of an amenity, it’s not a high percentage of our sales were more of the food than anything. However, the labor and the food and obviously make a big piece of that puzzle, a majority of that puzzle. And it was that just that puzzle, it’s like, you know, our labor is through the roof. You know, our food is through the roof. And how are we going to manage this? Well, this is what we did, is we extended our hours, we hired more staff, which is you think about it’s probably the opposite of what they will think to do. But what we noticed is that we’re open only lunch and dinner. We opened at 11. And then we closed at nine. Well, we still had to come in prep. So for the first two or three hours of the day, we were prepping, we were paying for that laborer, but we weren’t open. And by the time we started serving lunch, call it noon 1230. You know, it was really fizzled out by about one so we had only a couple hours of business. And then leading into the the lull between lunch and dinner was, you know, nothing really going on. And then when dinner kicked up, round six or seven, we closed at nine. So we never really had that momentum throughout the day. So what we did, you know, we never had a grand opening. I couldn’t I couldn’t, you know, see five feet in front of my face. We were just so busy and not necessarily busy. We’re you know, tons of people coming in where there was that but there was also on the other hand trying to figure it out, you know? So brought on more people open for breakfast, extended our dinner hours. So now we’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and this is month six now. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, come in then to July. Now, instead of sitting there at nine and opening at 11, and having about eight hours of dead labor, now we were coming in at six with an opener and then straggling along till about nine or 10, before you had your full staff, however, we’re building those incremental sales, through breakfasts, that then gave us a real opportunity to drive that, that number down by lunchtime, rather than being in the 50 to 60%. At lunch, now we’re in more of a manageable 30%. Because we were able to build those sales, while we are prepping, we introduced catering around that time. So when we were able to acquire catering for three or 400, breakfast tacos, really was able to help us manage our labor, and really our food at that point, I did a whole menu revamp, you know, even with not having all the resources and the infrastructure. Just put it all the Excel the best we could, and just, you know, tried to get, you know, as actual toys, we could cost without having, you know, pulling extra inventories on a 24 hour basis. And having that, again, that structure, we were able to figure out, this is where we are, our costs are, you know, somewhat in line. And that was really the the pivotal turning point was in July. We’re July I think was our first month that we brought a little bit to the bottom line. So we knew that we were going in the right direction.

Chad Franzen 16:34

When and how did you know it was time to add a second location? It sounds like the the first location was was crazy. Yeah, while there and then things must have kind of studied a little bit or something. When did you know it was time to add a second one?

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