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Why Invest: Panchero’s Mexican Grill Vice President Barry Nelson Says the Franchise Program Works Because They Keep It Simple

by Brian Bixler on January 3, 2013

in Mexican Restaurant Franchise, Why Invest

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If you get into a discussion with anyone involved in providing fresh, Tex-Mex food to the public, the conversation inevitably turns to Chipotle, which is considered a game changer in the Mexican category of fast-casual dining. Every other Mexican-oriented brand has taken the Chipotle model and is trying not to mimic it, but improve upon it and make it their own. Panchero’s Mexican Grill is no exception. But it offers something that Chipotle doesn’t: an opportunity for franchisees to share in the success of the brand.

Simplicity Pervades Every Aspect of Brand

Barry Nelson, VP of Operations and Head of Franchising for Panchero's Mexican Grill

Barry Nelson, VP of Operations and Head of Franchising for Panchero’s Mexican Grill

Barry Nelson, Panchero’s vice president of operations and head of franchising summarizes his brand’s appeal to franchisees in one word: simplicity.

“We don’t try to complicate it,” said Nelson, who joined the company in 2011, having spent 10 years with Papa John’s working with both corporate and franchise operations. “If we have one overriding theme to everything that we do, it’s simplicity.”

And he does mean everything: the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle pervades all aspects of the Panchero’s franchisee program: menu, training, marketing, even build-out of its stores, Nelson said.

“It goes through everything that we do…the way we explain things. Our recipes typically are explained on one sheet of paper. If it goes over to a second page, we’ve probably complicated it.”

For example, Panchero’s only has five main items on its menu:  burritos, tacos, quesadillas, burrito bowls, and salads, all made to order. Customers choose their main ingredient — marinated, grilled steak; slow-roasted, seasoned pork; chili-tamarind chicken; or seasoned vegetables — and then customize their entree with fresh ingredients that include rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, lettuce, and condiments that are house-made on the premises. Things like queso dips and guacamole are also made on-site daily.

Bob the Tool Differentiates Panchero’s

The fresh factor is becoming more common in fast-casual dining, but Panchero’s is differentiating itself  from the competition, including market-leader Chipotle, in a couple of different ways.

Panchero's Mexican Grill's Bob the Tool

Bob the Tool

“We have two pieces really that set us apart from anyone else,” Nelson said. “One is we use fresh-pressed tortillas. We make our tortilla dough fresh every day and we actually press the tortilla right in front of the customer and make it to order.”

“The other is a tool that we call Bob; and Bob is a tool that we use to mix all the ingredients together in your burrito, right before we roll the burrito. So when you’re eating your burrito you get every ingredient in every bite throughout the burrito from top to bottom.”

Use of the red plastic tool, almost like a small spatula, started as an option in Panchero’s stores, which urged customers to use the company’s tag line and ask employees to “Bob my burrito.” Today, it has become a crucial part of the brand, and when the company enters a new market, a Panchero’s representative will often appear on morning television news shows to demonstrate how Bob is used and how it makes a burrito better.

“We did put a lot of time and effort into sourcing the right tool to do it,” Nelson said. “When we explain what Bob is, it seems to make perfect sense to the customer. It seems to resonate with the customers; and those who have been with us a long time really demand it.”

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