Updated August 2006
Tijuana Flats, a 44-unit up-and-comer in the Tex-Mex
segment, sports a new prototype that doubles meal output
with a minimal increase in equipment costs.
When your restaurant’s super-fresh Tex-Mex
food, funky décor and a fully stocked hot sauce bar keep
your stores packed day and night, you’ve got to have the
kitchen capacity to handle the crowds. With a new prototype
that nearly doubles the number of meals that can be served
per day, the folks at Tijuana Flats have achieved just that.
Make no mistake: Tijuana Flats isn’t just
another chomp-and-stomp burrito joint. The concept’s full
menu of highly addictive Tex-Mex food and proprietary hot
sauces such as “Smack My A** And Call Me Sally—The Slap
Heard Around The World” have created a cult following in
parts of Florida and the Southeast. Now the 11-year-old,
44-unit Orlando, Fla., chain is ready for rapid
expansion—and they’ve got just the prototype to fuel it.
The prototype opened in Winter Garden,
Fla., in July 2005. Two months into operations, the numbers
were as hot as some of Tijuana Flats’ fiery condiments. The
store has been serving nearly 600 meals per day, and
“tracking $1.8 million in annual sales,” compared to $1.1
million in average unit volumes at other stores, says Camp
Fitch, president and CEO.
Even better, there’s room for growth. “The
prototype’s kitchen has the capacity to generate up to $2.5
million,” adds Fitch, whose resume includes top posts with
Metromedia Restaurant Group’s Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale
The secret to Tijuana’s sales success is
simple yet efficient: A mirrored make-line in the kitchen
has allowed operators to nearly double production capacity
and annual sales volume with only a slight change to the
kitchen layout and equipment list.
A Barrage Of Burritos
The new prototype wasn’t just pulled from thin air. It’s the
natural evolution that occurs as a restaurant chain builds a
Five years ago, stores averaged $400,000
in annual sales out of a 1,900-sq.-ft. footprint with a
700-sq.-ft. kitchen. (Today some of those same stores are
cranking out more than $1 million in sales—and practically
bursting at the seams in the process, Fitch says.)
The second design jumped in size to 2,300
sq. ft., in which the roughly 1,000-sq.-ft. kitchen gained
half a production line dedicated to takeout orders. Unit
volume grew to $750,000.
Now the third design comes in response to
the concept’s popularity. The Winter Garden store, at 3,300
sq. ft. with a 1,200-sq.-ft. kitchen, features a mirrored
make-line layout that has more than doubled production
A printer sits at the center of the line,
generating orders from four registers. When the order comes
up, be it eat-in or carryout, it can go either to the right
or to the left to be filled. Once complete, a runner brings
the meal out to the dining room and calls out the customer’s
name from the order slip to locate the table. Average
elapsed time elapsed from register to table: seven minutes.
The equipment package for the new
prototype is about $98,000, compared to $78,000 in equipment
for the original store models. And the cost to build the
prototype is $300,000, compared to $230,000 for smaller
stores. “It’s not a huge jump in cost considering that
you’re literally doubling production capacity,” Fitch notes.
“What we did not duplicate,” he adds, “is
the back cooking line under the hoods. That’s where you run
Toeing The Lines
Let’s take a closer look at the make-line, starting at the
center and working out in one direction. A hot well takes
the center spot and contains all ingredients used for making
burritos. Next to that is a refrigerated salad top table,
holding all the cold prepped ingredients. Then, a double
steam well for hot toppings and side dishes. The last stop
is the plating table. Above the cold table is a wall-mounted
cheese melter, used for melting cheese as well as toasting
burritos, nachos, quesadillas and tostadas.
At peak times, up to nine people can work
the line; in slower times of day, four workers are enough.
The cook line on the back wall is includes
a 48”, four-burner flattop on a refrigerated base with two
drawers; a steamer used for retherming precooked items; and
Around the corner from the make-line, and
on the way out to the dining room, you’ll find the appetizer
station. This is equipped with a refrigeration unit holding
salsa, guacamole and other chilled components. The station
also includes a chip warmer and a cheese warmer. Food
runners are responsible for assembling appetizer orders.
The nearby beverage station includes a
margarita machine, beer taps, soft drink dispensers and a
Other parts of the kitchen receive equal
attention to detail. The ice machine, for example, is
oversized to keep up with demand in the hot climate—the
water going into the machine averages about 95°F. Tijuana
Flats specs flake-type crushed ice, and its ice machine is
fitted with a 1,200-lb. bin with two 2,000-lb. capacity
There’s also a walk-in cooler, a small ice
cream-style freezer, a three-compartment pot-washing sink,
and space and utilities for future pieces of equipment such
as an extra food processor.
There’s no dishwasher, since food is
served either on sturdy black-coated Styrofoam plates or in
reusable baskets. Back-of-house, disposable heat-resistant
liners placed in the hotel pans reduce the need for
heavy-duty washing and scrubbing.
Meanwhile, Out In Front...
“Wild and funky” is how Fitch describes the look of a
Tijuana Flats restaurant. And that’s as good a summary as
Although no two stores are alike, their
color schemes all come from a psychedelic palate that
includes purple, lime green, orange and yellow. You’ll also
spot a distinct dragon motif—or maybe it’s lizards—and a
certain sci-fi/comic book flair to the various murals that
rule the walls at each restaurant.
Counter fronts and wainscoting are covered
with corrugated metal, which is in turn plastered with edgy
bumper stickers. Walls feature scatter-shot picture arrays
and shelves of hot sauce bottles. Stacked beer boxes help
direct traffic towards the registers. Multi-colored track
lights illuminate the various sayings and design elements.
The main addiction—er, attraction—of the
dining area, however, is Tijuana Flats’ largest Hot Bar to
date, where customers can choose from an always-changing
selection of 20 hot sauces, many of them developed and
retailed by the company. A large sign warns, in no uncertain
terms, that “these sauces are extremely hot; use at own
risk; no children allowed at Hot Bar; and wash hands after
With the Tijuana Flats addiction as strong as it is, the
company’s franchise group has been quite busy in recent
months. The chain will open 22 new stores in ’06; more than
25 are slated to open in ’07; and contracts are pending to
launch up to 100 new restaurants over the next five years.
Home-state Florida now supports 34 Tijuana
Flats restaurants. New and developing markets for the
company include Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, New
Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, plus the
greater Philadelphia area.
“The Slap Heard Around The World,” indeed.
Tijuana Flats is on the move.
NUMBER OF UNITS: 44
EXPANSION PLANS: Up to 22 new
stores opening in 2006; 25-30 expected to open in ’07
PROTOTYPE: 3,300 sq. ft.; 170
seats + 20 patio seats
FF&E PACKAGE: $98,000 for
PRESIDENT AND CEO: Camp Fitch
FOUNDER AND COO: Brian