An ethnic group is defined as a ‘sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic or cultural heritage.’ However, there is no fixed definition for ethnic foods because it is determined in many ways by where you live. For much of the country, Tex-Mex cuisine may be considered ethnic but for those who live in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, this is their everyday food. Because the US is a true melting pot of cultures, many of the products we use in everyday life are actually ethnic in origin, e.g., pasta, taco shells, soy sauce, gourmet olive oil, salsa, tortillas, teriyaki seasonings, etc.

As American consumers have become more knowledgeable about world cuisine and more adventuresome in their menu experimentation, restaurateurs have rushed to meet the demand for new and “exotic” tastes.

Thirty-five years ago, in 1978, Taco Bell was in its ascendency and had just been acquired by PepsiCo, forming the third segment of Tricon Global (along with Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut). I wrote an overview of the company’s history late last year. At about the same time that Taco Bell was truly becoming a national name, three upstart taco companies began their operations.

Taco Cabana was founded in San Antonio, TX, by Felix Stehling, in a vacated Dairy Queen location. The restaurants are designed to look like a Mexican patio café, featuring fresh food instead of pre-prepared products and serving beer and margaritas. The chain grew in Texas until the early 1990s, when it began to expand into neighboring states. The company went public in 1992. However, revenues declined and less than 10 years later, in 2001, Taco Cabana was privatized and became part of the Carrols Restaurant Corporation. Under Carrols leadership, the chain began to thrive again and by the end of 2012 was operating 168 locations across GA, NM, OK, and TX. In May 2012, Taco Cabana and Carrols’ other Latin-inspired chain, Pollo Tropical, were spun off into an new publicly-owned entity called Fiesta Restaurant Group.

The Taco Maker company is headquartered in Puerto Rico and was founded by Gil L. Craig. It operates locations in inline urban areas, strip malls, and (in some cases) inside Walmart stores. The company is a leader in the Mexican QSR market in its island homeland. However, it has also grown outside the Caribbean and can now be found in CA, DC, FL, NV, PA, UT, and WA as well as Venezuela and Russia. There are also smaller express restaurants with a limited menu that are targeted for food courts, gas stations, convenience stores, hospitals, and other such venues. The restaurants are primarily operated by franchisees and the company is seeking qualified applicants.

Also that same year Taco Mayo opened its first location in Norman, OK. According to the company history, the name was chosen because the menu type was Tex-Mex and it opened in May. The owners began franchising two years later, and there are now 93 locations spread across AR, KS, OK, and TX. The prototypical Taco Mayo are freestanding buildings of approximately 2,200 square feet with drive-through service.

Celebrating its 80th birthday this year, Chain Store Guide has been providing its customers with qualified sales leads and market data since 1933. The companies profiled above are just three of more than 600 in our Chain Restaurant Operators database with menus focused on Mexican and Southwest/Tex-Mex cuisine. If you would like to learn more about CSG and how we can help your grow your business, visit or call 800-778-9794 to arrange a no-obligation online demonstration.



In the month of February, Chain Store Guide received responses from 904 restaurant operators with at least five locations, many of which are the largest restaurant operators in the country. Of those surveyed, less than one-fourth are using any sort of mobile devices in any of their restaurants. Of the 24% that have the technology, two-thirds are using Apple devices (iPad, iPod, and iPhone). Android products are a distant second, not much more prevalent than other types of tablets.

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