District Taco - From Food Cart to a Franchise Powerhouse

District Taco, a Mexican fast-casual restaurant brand, embarked on its culinary journey in 2009 with the humble beginnings of a food cart. Fast forward to today, and it has evolved into a thriving multi-unit restaurant franchise, with its sights set on expanding its presence in Virginia Beach and the outer banks of North Carolina.

District Taco - From Food Cart to a Franchise Powerhouse

In 2009, Osiris Hoil and Marc Wallace, who were once neighbors, joined forces to create District Taco, initially rolling out a mobile food cart specializing in breakfast tacos. Bonded by their shared love for homemade chips, salsa, guacamole, and a passion for quality Mexican cuisine, the duo embarked on a mission to provide fresh, made-from-scratch Mexican dishes. Their menu was designed to be fully customizable, catering to a wide range of dietary preferences, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.

By the time 2022 rolled around, District Taco had transformed into a multi-unit restaurant franchise, boasting 14 restaurant locations and employing over 300 dedicated staff members. Furthermore, the franchise had a remarkable 70 units in development, a testament to its rapid growth and popularity. This milestone year also marked the celebration of serving their 10 millionth taco.

The remarkable success of District Taco's 14-year journey can be traced back to its roots as a mobile food operation. According to Hoil, the desire to open a restaurant was ignited from the very beginning. The co-founders initially set up their food cart near the metro station in Rosslyn, Virginia, intending to target the Washington, D.C. area. However, due to the time and expense required to obtain an operating license in D.C., they relocated their operation to Virginia.

Reflecting on those early days, Hoil emphasized that starting a business was a necessity. "I did not have another option in 2008. That makes it easier! If someone has the luxury of choice, then I would recommend being open to changing the plan and adapting in the process. It never goes exactly as planned," he said.

The overwhelming popularity of their food cart and the demand for their Yucatan-inspired menu signaled that the business had the potential for scalability. In 2010, District Taco opened its first physical location in Arlington, Virginia.

When it comes to his business strategy, Hoil's advice is straightforward: "Start with the basics. You can always make adjustments along the way, but the simpler your operation, the better. Don't expect to figure it all out and then start. This is a learn-as-you-go process. The food cart was my school. Customers become the teachers with their feedback. It becomes pretty obvious what is working and what isn't."

The path to growth continued with the opening of the first District Taco inside D.C.'s Metro Center in 2011. By 2016, with nine stores in operation, the company decided to retire its mobile food operations. In 2017, they expanded into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Then, in 2021, with 14 locations spread across four states, the brand ventured into franchising by signing its first five-unit franchisee.

The challenges brought on by the pandemic underscored the viability of District Taco's business model in the new era. Hoil noted, "The crisis of the pandemic became an opportunity for us to refine our unique brand. It gave us the time to work through and formalize our franchise model while simultaneously making major enhancements to our digital infrastructure. With new technology and our model, we are a very appealing opportunity for franchisees."

Looking ahead, District Taco has exciting plans for the future, with the announcement of future development in Virginia Beach. Their goal is to open ten new locations in the area, including the outer banks of North Carolina. The development deal was inked with Brothers Best LLC, and the first restaurant is slated to open later this year.

Transitioning from a mobile food operation to a full-fledged restaurant, according to Hoil, hinges on following the momentum generated by the "street" business and becoming an integral part of the local community. He advises aspiring entrepreneurs to educate themselves by seeking guidance from others and asking plenty of questions. Being creative in finding solutions when challenges arise is essential, as is remaining open to advice and even criticism. Trusting oneself and one's team is key to success.

Reflecting on the journey of over a decade in the business, Hoil affirmed that he wouldn't change a thing about the process of evolving from a mobile food cart business to a thriving restaurant environment. "We undoubtedly made mistakes, but we learned from them. Mistakes are just a part of the process of improvement," he concluded.

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