For decades, the one-year anniversary of a restaurant’s opening wouldn’t have registered a blip on the local business radar. But reaching that milestone in today’s recession-plagued economy is cause for celebration for a Temecula newcomer.
“We’re getting through it,” said Zach Newcomer, who together with his stepfather opened a Chronic Tacos franchise in Temecula’s Tower Plaza a year ago. “Everybody’s keeping their chin up and everybody’s keeping a great attitude to keep the customers coming back.”
The 1,400-square-foot restaurant – one of 29 in the fast-growing chain – opened as the economic downturn was beginning to take hold. The recession’s impact has since broadened, as attested by empty storefronts that have proliferated in many area strip malls and shopping centers throughout the region.
“It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure,” Newcomer, a 37-year-old father of three children, said in a recent interview. “You’ve got great days and bad days.”
Before opting to go into business for himself, Newcomer worked as a bartender for 13 years at the Newport Beach Brewing Company. He looked on as two close friends – Daniel A. Biello and Randall L. Wyner – launched Chronic Tacos Inc. in 2001.
The concept came to Biello and Wyner “after a long night of revelry” in Newport Beach, according to company materials. The company’s first restaurant opened in an 800-square-foot storefront in that Orange County community in July 2002.
Their approach was to rely on fresh ingredients, recipes that date back three generations and an assembly-line preparation process in which patrons can watch as they custom-order their selections.
The entrepreneurs decided to expand two years later, and in 2005 they opened another restaurant in Huntington Beach. The Costa Mesa-based company has expanded exponentially since then. Franchises have popped up throughout California and have also reached Arizona and Idaho.
“All the stores have been a huge success and continue to thrive with new customers every day,” according to company marketing materials.
The company currently charges a $50,000 franchise fee and building renovation costs generally total about $250,000, according to company officials.
Newcomer said he didn’t have any qualms about leaving his longtime job and opening the company’s only franchise in southwest Riverside County.
“All the Chronic Tacos were doing so well, so I figured it was time to get in,” he said. “So I bucked up and did it.”
Newcomer moved his family from Newport Beach to Temecula in July 2008. He decided to lease a space that is set back from Ynez Road near the Movie Experience theater.
“I designed the store by myself from the ground up,” he said. “I wanted it to feel homey. I kind of brought the microbrew experience with me.”
The restaurant seats 35 people and it employs 10 part- and full-time workers. The menu offers a vast array of tacos, burritos, quesadillas, tamales, taquitos, nachos, enchiladas and breakfast foods. There are four beers on tap and 10 other types available in bottles or cans.
Newcomer said the custom-ordering approach surprises many first-time customers.
“It’s very unique,” he said. “It’s like a Mexican Subway (sandwich shop).”
He said his restaurant has plunged into the local business scene, and catering, coupon specials and community group functions have become a big part of its operations.
“We’re going to stick it out,” he said. “We’re doing OK.”
See the Coupon Corner in this issue of the Village News for a ‘Buy One Taco – Get One Free’ offer at this restaurant.