Atlanta — Entrepreneurs Miguel Hernandez and Damian Otero have created a marriage of the authentic flavors of Mexican street food along with the experience of a modern, high-energy taqueria at Rreal Tacos.
Hernandez and Otero acquired the restaurant’s original Midtown Atlanta location in August 2021 from Adrian Villarreal, the brand’s founder and namesake. Since the purchase, they have expanded to three additional locations in West Midtown, Chamblee and Sandy Springs, growing their business with a 1,200% increase in sales, all without shouldering the burden of debt.
“We’re completely debt-free. All the expansion that we’ve done so far has been with our profits,” says Hernandez. “We save the profits from every taco and every margarita that we sell, and when the time is right, we pull the trigger on another location.”
The brand will open its fourth Georgia location in March 2023 and is eyeing expansion opportunities outside of the metro-Atlanta area as well as Nashville, Tenn., and Charlotte, N.C., at the end of 2023 and beginning of 2024.
Hernandez grew up in Texas and was exposed to the authentic flavors of Mexican food. His interest in music brought him to Atlanta 6 years ago where he established himself as a DJ and worked as a producer/sound engineer. When the COVID-19 pandemic affected his livelihood, he worked in a friend’s Mexican restaurant to make ends meet and ended up falling in love with the industry.
“My dream was never to be in the restaurant business; it just sort of happened,” says Hernandez. “I got really good at the service aspect of hospitality, managing and training people, then I got into the back-of-the-house where I learned simple kitchen procedures, how to pass rigorous inspections, where food comes from and how to manage food and labor costs. I became obsessed with learning as much as I could about the business, and this is when I knew what I wanted to do moving forward.”
Otero was born in Uruguay and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 10 years old. He began his career as a salesperson at 18 and then opened a business operating specialty retail kiosks in malls across the Southeast. In 2014, he purchased his first restaurant, Sabores del Plata (a steakhouse in Norcross, Ga.), and continued operating the kiosk business until October 2022.
“The kiosk business gave me the experience I needed to expand. Having negotiated over 60 leases, I understand how to reach out to a landlord and negotiate a deal,” says Otero.
Hernandez and Otero connected through mutual friends and invested together to purchase a location of Café at Pharr in Vinings. From there, they refined their strategy of purchasing existing restaurants with little to no social media presence and refreshing the concepts, which is how Rreal Tacos came to be.
“The restaurant business is very outdated in the way that it operates. The culture is very outdated. The technology is outdated. The pay structure for top performers is very outdated,” says Hernandez. “Nowadays, people are willing to make less money up front as long as they have an opportunity to climb up the ladder, have a sense of purpose, and in turn, have the opportunity to make more money in the future.”
“I tell people that we inherited a broken system in restaurants,” says Hernandez. “If you are willing to work extra hard, do the right things and be an example, good things will come. It’s not a matter of ‘IF’ but rather ‘WHEN,’ and we reward those people,” says Hernandez.
That desire to change the system led Hernandez and Otero to found Resto Experience in January 2022, a full-service marketing agency that works with restaurants to develop their digital strategies, lifting them up to attain new levels of success.
“Social media became essential to the growth of our restaurants, and now it’s an essential part of a lot of people’s restaurants that we work with,” says Hernandez. “The same thing that happened with Rreal Tacos is happening with them…their sales are up, and some are expanding into other locations.”
Another strategy that sets Rreal Tacos apart is the opportunity for top performers to earn equity in the business. “We have an operation where the five top-performing employees can own a piece of equity with every location we open. The idea is to find talented and driven people who start as regular employees and then transition into becoming a manager. Once they check all the boxes, they can become a partner in any given location or multiple locations,” says Otero. “We’re in it to expand, grow and take people that can grow with us.”
Currently, Rreal Tacos has multiple employees with equity in the company, all of whom are Hispanic.
“You’re putting people in a position to create generational wealth because they’re part of a growing business,” says Hernandez. “It’s been such a gratifying feeling knowing that some of these individuals are the children of first-generation immigrant parents who came to this country chasing the American dream.”
Rreal Tacos, owned by CEO Damian Otero and COO Miguel Hernandez, brings the authentic flavor of Mexican street food to taco purists and connoisseurs in Atlanta at its three Atlanta locations: Midtown at 100 6th St. NE; West Midtown at 1000 Northside Dr. NW; and Chamblee at 5070 Peachtree Industrial Blvd. A fourth location is slated for Sandy Springs in March 2023. For more information, visit www.rrealtacos.com.
SOURCE: Rreal Tacos