Article contributed by Kyle Inserra
I love tacos. It’s become an obsession – so much so that I started kicking the idea around of opening a taqueria with a buddy of mine from culinary school in the summer of 2018. Besides being a taco lover himself, he’s Mexican and has worked at some well-known restaurants in both LA and NYC.
My friend had never been to the town I was suggesting for our new venture, so we met at a local restaurant to tour the space and talk through some of the details of the concept. After we finished our meal – it was decided – we were opening a taqueria.
Now, almost as much as I adore tacos – I love simplicity when it comes to restaurant concepts. A mentor of mine once told me, “in the restaurant business, be Mariano Rivera – be good at one thing, that everyone knows coming, and they can’t touch.” With that in mind, we were off and running – tacos, quesadillas, and sides, with a simple yet thoughtfully curated beer and tequila list and, of course, margaritas.
Our name was PTL – it stood for Pequena Taqueria – Larchmont, and we were busy from day one. People loved the food, they loved the music, and our staff was great! I felt like we were really onto something. We had a fun laid back vibe with great food, and a connection to the community. It certainly seemed like this was going to be a great concept to grow. But something was missing; the brand itself just felt flat. I scheduled a meeting with my partners and said, “You know, I think we need to go through a rebranding.” They thought I was nuts, “but everyone knows that PTL, and they love the place!” They weren’t wrong, people knew us, and our sales were tracking just under $700k in our first year not bad for a 850SF taco joint. All of our KPI’s were in line, we had no debt and really were in solid shape. I continued to press forward, knowing that in order to be successful a brand needs to have a look, something that stood out, something that was reminiscent of the concept itself. PTL just didn’t work – it was too…boring. It took about three weeks – but they were eventually convinced, and we decided to go ahead with the project.
I immediately scheduled a call with a good friend of mine who is an extremely talented graphic designer and had helped me on some branding projects in the past. She loved what we were all about simple food, presented creatively with great music. We were all in agreement that we needed to stay true to our original concept of LA style tacos meets NYC vibe and we had to incorporate Larchmont somehow in the name. We hung up and less than a week later, we had it. All the doubts my partners had were erased after they saw our new name and color scheme. We would now be known as La La Taqueria, bold font with a very rock and roll look, and the colors were just perfect pink, black, and gray – unique, and vibrant, just what we wanted.
To be sure, we ran it by some of our regular customers, and sure enough, they loved it. We then painted the entire place pink with black tables and new artwork. We ordered T-shirts, stickers, hats – the look was so much more us, so much more so that I am convinced it changed the energy of the entire concept. In the process we also updated the website and stripped our social media in preparation for relaunch as La La Taqueria. Then, the pandemic hit. We quickly pivoted to offering just take out and deliver. We went in heavy on our social media with our new logo and some updated pictures and videos. We even hired a videographer to help create a short video showing how we were carefully packaging the food and offering contactless pickup services.
Our customers were happy that we were still open and couldn’t have been more supportive. We made it a point to put stickers and lollipops (our signature giveaway) in every to- go bag. We also made our Spotify playlist public so that people could enjoy their tacos margaritas at home while listening to music that they loved when they were dining in the restaurant.
When the warm weather came, we were fortunate to have the town block off the parking in front of our restaurant space, we were able to put six picnic tables along with three 12 ft tall palm trees and hanging lights and outdoor speakers out there, which elevated the brand even more. We created in LA street scene in the middle of Larchmont, New York. Our bookkeeper called us a “unicorn”; he couldn’t believe the numbers we were doing. Our net profit was up nearly 700%!!! The power of pink! I firmly believe that the fact that we rebranded ourselves and committed to providing that brand experience outside the four walls of our restaurant was the main reason for our success.
As we look towards coming out of this pandemic, it’s clear that restaurants need to take control of their branding. It’s a noisy environment, and franchise, and chain restaurant brands spend a lot of money doing the same, so independents need to do the same. Creating a brand image with a clear brand voice in a clearly defined marketing plan is critical to your success now more than ever.
Start by looking at your website and your digital presence is it clear who you are or what you do? Is it clear how I can place an order on your website for delivery? How about your food packaging? Are using aluminum containers with cheap plastic lids, or have you gotten more creative?
You want your customers to think of you even when they’re not at your restaurant. Stay on top of your social media, don’t just post food pictures, engage with your customers, let them know that you’re still there, and you’re ready to serve. Customers are savvier than ever, and they want to connect with restaurants that have a purpose – you’re not just a place to have a meal. Just because you’re not open for indoor dining doesn’t mean that you can’t provide an experience.
Be sure to have a clear name, image, and message. If you do, and really dedicate yourself to creating a brand, once this is all over, I truly believe your restaurant will have some raving fans.
A 18-year restaurant veteran, Kyle Inserra is now part of the national accounts team Sabre Advisors, specializing in the strategic growth and nurturing of emerging restaurant brands. A restaurateur himself (co-founder of Polpettina and LA LA Taqueria), his insider’s perspective of what it means to be a restaurant operator day-in and day-out, allow him to relate to his clients’ ever-changing needs. His expertise includes everything from site selection, lease negotiation, demographic and psychographic analysis, competitor analysis and zoning regulations. Kyle is also the host of The National Restaurant Owners Podcast, a show focused on bringing value to restaurant owners across the country by sharing his insight and experience, with a wide variety of guests. Contact him at https://taplink.cc/kyleinserra