Capital Tacos started out in a 1,000-square-foot shop in Land O’Lakes, where its owner-chef dished out Baja- and Tex-Mex-inspired tacos and burritos in a hip, industrial-chic setting.
Nearly a decade later, the chain is ready to go grande.
The fast-casual brand, which has five locations around Tampa Bay, is launching a franchise program with eyes on markets as far north as North Carolina and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana.
“Our goal was always to get the company to a point where we can get the Capital to as many people around the region, the state and the country as possible,” co-owner Josh Luger said. “We’ve had, not exaggerating, literally hundreds of requests for stores and franchises across the state and country from folks who visit the store or know us over the years.”
By the time Luger and co-owner James Marcus bought Capital Tacos from founders Bobby and Kristel Heskett in 2016, the restaurant had already earned widespread recognition, ranking third on a Business Insider list of the nation’s best taco joints, according to data from FourSquare.
The restaurant opened locations in Brandon, New Port Richey, Riverview, Wesley Chapel, St. Petersburg and, for a short time, Amalie Arena. The St. Petersburg shop closed during the pandemic, but the others are still going strong. Luger said Capital Tacos’ revenues have surpassed 2019 levels, with the majority of its business tied to delivery and takeout.
The buy-in for a Capital Tacos franchise will be $190,000 to $380,000, Luger said, with flexibility in how much space a shop will take up. The brand’s recent emphasis on takeout and delivery means a franchise could succeed in a smaller space than it might have occupied before the pandemic.
“You see the world coming around to, ‘Hey, maybe we don’t need 50 seats, and maybe we don’t need 3,000 square feet,’ ” he said. “Folks can go bigger if they’d like, but our average store could be less than 2,000 square feet, having some indoor seats but not a ton, some outdoor seats but not a ton, and still do incredibly well.”
For now, the company is planning to focus its franchising efforts on suburban areas.
“We obviously think we could succeed anywhere, but the focus is going to be to scale where we’ve already succeeded,” Luger said. “There’s thousands and thousands of suburbs in the country that I think are similar to the suburbs where we currently operate stores.”
The company will likely open its first franchises in Florida, with the first new restaurants opening early next year or even the end of 2022. The five Capital Tacos stores in Tampa Bay will remain company-owned, and Luger said more are coming — but they’re also open to local franchisees, too. In the market that launched Outback, Hooters and PDQ, he still sees potential for growth.
“Tampa has been the home for a lot of concepts,” Luger said. “In the fast-casual industry, it’s one of the markets that people look to and say, ‘If you can succeed in Tampa, that’s a really good sign.’ ”