Encinal Brands Captures Booming Mexican Food Segment


Ivan Flores’ first dive into restaurant ownership came in 2013, with the opening of Mexican concept El Encinal.

He did this without knowing enough about demographics and menu engineering, and all his money went into opening the restaurant. The result was quick and ruthless.

“Within months, I was already out there,” says Flores, who dreamed of owning a restaurant while working at his grandparents’ El Encinal ranch in Mexico’s Baja California.

From this early experience, Flores not only recognized the importance of real estate and pricing, but also how to match products to customer demand. One of El Encinal’s most popular items was Buffalo Fries, and the restaurateur decided to make it the flagship item for his next project. The product includes crispy golden fries topped with hand breaded and diced chicken and the customer’s choice of 12 sauces. Flores also opted for a more populated area — full of desirable millennials and Gen Z customers — and landed in Long Beach, California.

This marked the start of The Buffalo Spot, a fast food chain that has more than 40 stores in California, Arizona and Texas. Similar to what Flores saw at El Encinal, 70% of the brand’s business comes from Buffalo Fries. In 2019, the budding restaurateur added Blue Burro, another quick-service spot known for its burritos, shakes and fries, with recipes he carried over from his first restaurant. There are now three units in Southern California.

Then in October 2021, Flores launched Tacomasa, a new taqueria he affectionately calls “one of my babies.” The Long Beach-based restaurant, with its bright blue, white and black colors, is reminiscent of a taco stand in Tijuana, Mexico, where it grew up. With Latin music playing in the background, the location offers authentic tacos, mulitas, tortas and quesadillas.

Collectively, the trio report to Encinal Brands, with Flores serving as CEO. Although each of the three restaurants offers different offerings, one aspect unites them: a simple and easy-to-learn menu, an idea that was not lost on Flores when El Encinal closed nearly 10 years ago.

“I’m a real fan of a simple menu for my staff, for customers,” says Flores. “It’s super important to me. You can also cross-reference your menu ingredients. Due to inflation, you can save costs there.

The well-defined menus put The Buffalo Spot, Blue Burro and Tacomasa in a franchise position, and Flores expects 150 to 200 openings over the next five years. The plan is to expand concentrically from California, Arizona, Nevada and Texas. Recently, two Blue Burro outlets debuted in Gilbert, Arizona (corporate) and Lemon Grove, California (franchise); two Buffalo Spot locations debuted in San Antonio (franchise) and Arlington (corporate); and a second Tacomasa unit is planned for Cypress, California.

“All of my brands focus on these markets specifically because we want to be able to support our franchisees as we build,” says Flores. “Obviously we want to go national at some point, but that’s a future goal. Right now that’s our main goal and it’s just to fully support our franchisees in the right way. .


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