P.E.I.'s Taco Boyz expands to N.B., offers franchises
'We hope the student crowd will definitely catch onto us'
Taco Boyz, a P.E.I. tex-mex restaurant that launched in Charlottetown in 2014, is expanding to Fredericton, N.B.
Best friends Chris Furlong and Michael Facchini, both 33, first hatched the idea for Taco Boyz in 2013 after winter visits to Mexico, where they enjoyed the food.
"We said, 'We really need to bring something fresh and new and flavourful to the Island scene,'" Furlong told me.
We've stepped into a quiet service corridor behind Taco Boyz's busy second location, in a strip mall that was formerly a Sobeys grocery store where Furlong worked years ago.
"People were always looking for a Taco Bell, or talking about Taco Bell coming," Furlong says. The friends decided to create their own take on tacos as fast food, but with "fresher ingredients and real, classical Mexican cooking techniques," he says.
'Passion for food'
Furlong got his start as an entrepreneur when he was just 16, starting a window-washing business with a friend in Toronto. After returning to his home province of P.E.I., he worked in many different departments at Sobeys grocery stores.
"I had good conversations about what the Island needed for food and some ideas it was lacking with people who were coming in," he recalls. "That's where I found a lot of passion for food, and dealing with people."
Taco Boyz first location was in the Kirkwood Mews strip mall on University Avenue.
We realized we were on to something, and that this model could be duplicated.— Chris Furlong
"We did the entire renovation ourselves, we dug the floor up, we dug the trenches for the water lines, we built the walls — we worked day and night," Furlong recalls. "Long days, 17 hours. It was fun at the time."
Taco Boyz quickly outgrew that first store, Furlong says.
"We were listening to people at the back of the line saying they need to get there quicker — they need to get in and get out," Furlong said. "As fast as we could do it, the store was just as big as it was, it could seat as many people as we could and that was it."
They decided to keep the first location and in 2015, added a second Taco Boyz a couple of kilometres west on University Avenue to serve "uptown" customers. It also became what the partners considered successful.
Then came the decision to offer franchises.
"After getting the second store model set up and running, we realized we were on to something, and that this model could be duplicated," Furlong said. He and Facchini embarked on the franchising process which took about two years, including trademarking and forming a contract for franchisees.
As of January, Taco Boyz is offering franchises in Atlantic Canada for a fee of $20,000 plus a five per cent royalty on sales and a two per cent marketing fee. Franchisees will need liquid capital of $50,000 to $75,000 and the total investment will be about $200,000, the Taco Boyz website says.
A quick browse of the Canadian Franchise Association website shows Taco Boyz's fees appear low compared to established franchises such as Montana's ($60,000 fee, investment of up to $2 million needed), or Tim Hortons (fee of $50,000, total investment of about $300,000). That's to attract franchisees to what's essentially an unproven entity.
"Financially speaking, it's a little bit of a discount, because it's not a big brand," Furlong explains. "I think what we can show as a model is that we've taken a system and put it in place in the smallest province in the entire country in one of the smallest cities and taken the model and we did so well at it that we doubled it."
Of course the trick is finding franchisees who will work hard to make the business a success, therefore making it look attractive to other potential owners.
"We built the brand, we want to protect the brand, we want to make sure anyone that is going to be carrying this brand has the same interest in it and the same love and passion that we have," Furlong says.
Franchisees will be carefully vetted, he said, to ensure their goals and expectations are compatible with the company's — and, the ideal Taco Boyz franchisee will be younger.
"We're looking for people that are young and are trying to start, and get into something fun and grow into multiple units," Furlong says. "We're not looking for someone who wants just a short play in the company."
Being part of an emerging company like Taco Boyz means franchisees can have input into the company's direction and decision-making, Furlong says.
Third corporate store
Then the partners came across a location in Fredericton they considered too good to pass up, in the Corbett Centre on Wayne Squibb Boulevard in a location that used to be a Relish burger franchise.
"We wish we had had someone to take it right away," Furlong says. "We just wanted it to be a part of Taco Boyz so we took it, and we're going to move actively into that one and start it as our third corporate store."
They're working on the store now and hope to have it open by the end of April.
Fredericton, they say, is similar to Charlottetown in that it's a university town and a capital city that's lacking in restaurant variety. They believe the franchise could expand to several locations in that area too. Although the restaurant is not within walking distance of the university, it is close to other shopping centres and Costco, so Furlong says, "we hope the student crowd will definitely catch onto us."
While Taco Boyz is only offering franchises now in Atlantic Canada, they hope to someday expand elsewhere in Canada.