Restaurant Development & Design

JUL-AUG 2018

restaurant development + design is a user-driven resource for restaurant professionals charged with building new locations and remodeling existing units.

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1 8 • r e s t a u r a n t d e v e l o p m e n t + d e s i g n • J U L Y / A U G U S T 2 0 1 8 Peer to Peer By Amanda Baltazar Q&A with Jeff Little L ake Forest, Calif.-based Del Taco is hungry for growth. This Mexican brand — strong on the West Coast and in the Southwest — is making its way east with targeted expansions in Atlanta and Orlando, Fla. What started as a single restaurant in 1964 has grown to 560 stores in 15 states, with just over half of the stores company owned. The chain plans to keep that mix going. "We feel it makes for a well-rounded brand that's concerned with the top line and the bottom line," says Jeff Little, senior vice president of development. "On the company side, we are looking for [cities] big enough to put in 10 to 15 stores quickly, so that entails larger markets. On the franchise side, we'll go into smaller areas." What is your background both before and with Del Taco? JL: I've been with Del Taco for just over two years and cover franchising, real estate, design, franchise recruiting — anything that comes under growth is in my shop. Prior to this, I was with El Pollo Loco in a similar role, and prior to that, I was with Yum! Brands for 20 years. I worked for all the Yum! brands at some point and ran through lots of roles — from director of development and strategy to real estate. What do you enjoy about working in devel- opment with Del Taco? JL: What drew me to it was, as the devel- opment guy, you want to be building and growing a brand. Yum! is going asset- light, and I love the idea of taking a brand like Del Taco and saying, "Let's introduce a brand to the rest of the U.S." We're very strong out here in the Southwest and very, very strong in the far West, and people think of us as equal to any Mexican restaurant you can think of. So, we said, "Let's take a great brand and put it in other cities." It's really exciting. The growth is definitely ramping up. Prior to me getting here, we were build- ing single-digit numbers of restaurants per year. We are doing well north of that today, and our strategy is to get to the mid-single-digit growth — 3 percent to 7 percent growth — which on a base of 500 to 600 restaurants is upwards of 30 to 40 restaurants per year. We still think we have some growth out here in the West, but we are certainly penetrated here, and the majority of growth will be eastern. What are some of the challenges of your job? JL: We are small and nimble and decisive, but the lack of bureaucracy means you have fewer folks trying to pull the sled. On a brand level, the biggest challenge is, how do you take a brand that has 50 years of history in California — and a cult-like following — and how do you tell people who have rarely experienced the brand about all that? There's definitely a brand culture about who and what we are. We are fortunate because we do have a bit of that Chick-fil-A or In-N-Out fanaticism, so that creates some awareness when we come to new markets. A lot of people come out [West] and experience the brand in Califor- nia or Las Vegas. And people who are transplants from here know about it. We do try to bring [franchisees] out here so they can experience the brand and the culture and pass that back to their burgeoning organizations. When we think about going to new markets, we want excitement and buzz and Senior Vice President of Development for Del Taco

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