Chris Medhurst is President and Chief Operating Officer at District Taco, with multiple locations in and around Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Chris started working at District Taco as a General Manager in 2010 before becoming Director of Operations, then VP of Finance and Operations, then Chief Financial Officer, and now President and COO.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- Chris Medhurst shares what a customer can expect from District Taco
- How District Taco came to be
- Why Chris came to work at District Taco
- Chris details the brand’s expansion from a single food truck to 14 brick-and-mortar locations and plans for future growth
- What makes District Taco a unique opportunity for potential franchisees?
- How the pandemic changed the concept’s operations
In this episode…
When a restaurant looks to add locations, what is essential to have in place in order to maintain the integrity of the brand? According to Chris Medhurst, President and COO of District Taco, it’s all about training. District Taco, which has grown to 14 brick-and-mortar locations after starting as a single food truck in 2009, has its own proprietary system used for training. Chris says it takes about three months of training and operational support before a new store can operate and become self-sufficient.
On this episode of the Top Business Leaders Show, Rise25’s Chad Franzen welcomes Chris Medhurst, President and COO of District Taco, to discuss keys to rapid growth of a small restaurant brand. Chris shares District Taco’s founding story and talks about the concept’s uniqueness which has allowed it to add a new location each year since it launched over a decade ago. He talks about the painful impact the pandemic had on District Taco and keys to the brand’s recovery.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Chris Medhurst on LinkedIn
- District Taco
- Osiris Hoil on LinkedIn
- Marc Wallace on LinkedIn
- Franchising with District Taco
- Chad Franzen on LinkedIn
Sponsor for this episode
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Welcome to the top business leaders show. Powered by Rise25 Media, we featured 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 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 combined marketing software and payments all in one. They’ve served everyone from larger chains like Dairy Queen at 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’s no better way to do it than through podcasts and content marketing. To learn more, go to rise25.com or email us at support at rise25.com. Chris Medhurst is President and Chief Operating Officer at District Taco, with multiple locations in and around Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Chris started with District Taco in 2010 as a General Manager, and then became Director of Operations, then VP of Finance and Operations, then Chief Financial Officer, and now President and COO. Chris, welcome to the show. Hey, thanks for having me. Hey, yeah, great to have you. Tell me about district taco. For those of us who have not been there don’t live in that area. And what the customer experience is like when going there?
Chris Medhurst 1:40
Sure. So District Taco is kind of a smaller, between 20 503,000 square feet, restaurant chain, we were a quick service slash fast, casual kind of concept. You go in order at the counter or at one of our kiosks and we make your food and try to get it out to you in less than 10 minutes. We’ve got all of our food is inspired by our founder of Cyrus oil and his kind of family recipes. He grew up in Mexico, and moved here when he was 18. And so he’s from the Yucatan Peninsula area, they use a lot of garlic, lots of cooking over open fires and stuff. So you know, that’s always been the charbroiled meats and roasted tomatoes. All that’s really been a part of our brand and part of our flavor since the very beginning.
Chad Franzen 2:40
Great. Is there kind of a story in terms of how district taco got started?
Chris Medhurst 2:47
Yeah. So Osiris, our CEO I mentioned and his neighbor who’s also one of the the founders and owners, Marc Wallace kind of got together over beers and barbecuing. And Marc was really impressed by Osiris his cooking skills. And Osiris had just lost his job in the construction industry. And this is in like 2009. And Marc was really impressive. His cooking and market just sold his first software company. So he was kind of looking for his next businesses to start. And they they shook hands and agreed to start district tacos a food truck. So they kind of it was actually more of a food cart. Not not an actual truck was a repurposed hotdog stand actually. So they refitted it made it work for tacos. And they kind of traveled around the DMV area around Washington DC. Selling street tacos.
Chad Franzen 3:46
Wow, very cool. So as I mentioned, you got there in 2010. As far as I can tell, district taco started in 2009. Is that right? That’s correct. So they were there for for a year, and then what kind of attracted you to them.
Chris Medhurst 4:05
So it’s actually a total accident. They started I think, late in the summer in 2009. And they close down the future, the winner. I graduated in 2010 from James Madison studied finance and economics. So I actually had gotten hired by Wells Fargo. And I, you know, had planned on starting that’s why I moved up here from Harrisonburg. And they called me about I think it was like four days before I was supposed to start and said, Hey, we just laid off 6,000 employees and you’re one of them. So I was I was jobless. And at the time my landlord was friends with with Mark and Osiris and they said, Hey, friends of ours are starting a food truck. You know, why don’t you get a part-time job with them just so you can keep paying his rent. So I was like, I guess that works. You know, they’ll just go in as basically Be a cashier at the food truck with a fanny pack. And, you know, from there, we kind of grew and open 14 restaurants and, you know, now we’re franchising.
Chad Franzen 5:11
Wow, that’s, that is quite a story. Is there any part of you that wishes you would be able to work at Wells Fargo?
Chris Medhurst 5:18
At this point? No. But there was definitely, there’s definitely some times in the beginning when it was pretty grueling, you know, getting up at 5 a.m. and getting the food truck ready. And even opening the first restaurant and working there and closing until midnight, where I kind of thought maybe I should get back into the finance world. But you know, this is all I’ve ever known for my entire professional career. So it’s been a wild ride, and much better than I expected it to go.
Chad Franzen 5:45
Did you? Had you worked in restaurants, you know, as a part time or as a college student or anything like that?
Chris Medhurst 5:52
No. I worked for my dad, who was a general contractor growing up. So I spent my summers digging holes and moving dirt around and getting tortured by him. I’d never worked in a restaurant.
Chad Franzen 6:03
So you came on board with District Taco, and it was a food truck, kind of take me through maybe the first year or so you said he opened up 14 new stores? I’m sure that didn’t happen all at the same time. What was the what were the kind of the early days like for you as you and how did it evolve from the food truck days?
Chris Medhurst 6:21
Yeah, so bringing it back, we, we had one food truck. They didn’t let me really inside the food truck because I was I was too tall. So I mostly stood outside and kind of operated and talked to the customers. And right when I was starting in 2010, like later, probably in July, we leased a space that would become our first restaurant. So we ended up using that for a commissary for about four or five months. And we actually the first restaurant we built with like $120,000, we had a little bit of experience in construction, and Osiris is in construction. So we pretty much built the whole thing ourselves, and you know, got used equipment on Craigslist and slapped it all together in a couple of months and opened in November of 2010 that year. So, you know, transitioning, I think from the food truck to a restaurant was sort of a breath of fresh air in a way. Because you know, it’s just really hard to operate in a food truck, you gotta run back, we were in a food food cart. So we you know, if we needed supplies, we had to run back to the coolers in the van, which could be part of several blocks away. So opening up that restaurant having a steady flow and not having to tweet that we were there and not fighting the gyro guys for the spot that we wanted. And it was really it was nice to open that that brick and mortar locations reverse time.
Chad Franzen 7:48
So the food truck was pretty popular, though. I mean, if you were there, you weren’t hurting for like people.
Chris Medhurst 7:52
Yeah, we had like three regular spots, I think two areas in Northern Virginia, Roslyn, Crystal City, were probably our best. I think we were you know, Sunday’s we do. But 1500 bucks, which was, which was really great for the time,
Chad Franzen 8:17
So, when did you you decide to open your first brick and mortar location? Did you guys have to do much to get the word out? Or was everybody so familiar with you due to the food truck days that they just showed up?
Chris Medhurst 8:29
We were really fortunate, I think we had a really great following from the food truck. And the location that we picked was about, you know, three minutes from both Marc and Osiris’ house. So, you know, their families, their friends, their kids, you know, they had a lot of relationships in the community already. So it was really a perfect storm of all those things combined in that location. So you know, we were doing really well right out the door right out the gate.
Chad Franzen 8:59
And I’m guessing that didn’t stop until you decided to open your second location.
Chris Medhurst 9:05
It did not stop. Yeah, we kept going. We opened our second store in 2012 downtown in Metro Center, which is probably six blocks from the White House or so. Right across the street from the Treasury. That store did even better than our first which was pretty mind boggling. It was really a challenge. We got outbid on a couple sites and we ended up picking this like three level place in in downtown DC. And you know, we had the prep and stuff in the basement all of the customer service like you know, assembly and taking orders on the first floor and then we had a little mezzanine with like, we still have that serve but we had about 30 seats on the mezzanine.
Chad Franzen 9:54
So does so then you guys open your third store does each location have its own and kind of feel or vibe, or is it pretty? Like, like, fits the brands? Each one fits the brand? Exactly.
Chris Medhurst 10:08
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. So I mean, we, we pride ourselves in consistency. But definitely the first three or four have a lot of character that’s unique to them. And I think that was, you know, partially a result of the real estate that we were in had a lot of history and a lot of character itself. But also, because we were, we were growing the brand and sort of learning as we go about the materials that we wanted to use to create the aesthetic, and then also, you know, to create this operational durability in the way that we can build restaurants and they can last and didn’t need to be repaired as often. So I would say, you know, as we got further down the road, you know, our 10th 11 12 started to look much more consistent in terms of a look, but the first few were unique and wack, and still are.
Chad Franzen 10:56
Yeah, sure. So I know you’re COO, you’ve been CFO. So you’ve been kind of involved a lot in finance and operations. Are you kind of the visionary behind the stores? Or is that somebody else?
Chris Medhurst 11:11
I mean, I get involved in everything. It kind of results have been there for so long. 13 years of working with the same company, I’ve kind of seen it all. But I definitely don’t do it myself. And Osiris is very involved in and, you know, we have now we have a whole team of people who are getting ready for this franchise program, we’re really relying on them to help us kind of develop the program and the standards and stuff. So.
Chad Franzen 11:38
So there are currently 14 locations. And is there one more on the way?
Chris Medhurst 11:42
Yeah, we’ve got, we actually have our first two franchise locations under construction, the one that will open versus in Springfield, Virginia, and the next one will be in McLean. And then we’ve got, but 70 more in the pipeline for hopefully the next five to 10 years.
Chad Franzen 12:01
Wow. So are you guys looking for franchisees?
Chris Medhurst 12:06
We are, we’re definitely looking for franchisees. We’re really, we started franchising in early 2022. And we just had a great first year, tons of interest. We mostly focus on partners who got existing multi unit experience. So all of our current, I think five franchise deals are with current or former multi unit franchisees. So, we have a five unit minimum. So those people are coming in with tons of experience and they’re well capitalized, and they’re teaching us things as we go, which has been great. I think for both sides.[continue to page 2]