A fresh opportunity

With a tempting menu of fresh Mexican food available at any time of the day, Tortilla offers a unique blend of Mexican and Californian dining experiences

The story of Tortilla began in 2007 when Brandon Stephens and his wife Jen Stephens opened the first in what would become an international chain of CaliMex restaurants in the London Borough of Islington. Brandon had travelled to London from the Mission District of San Francisco‚ the self-proclaimed burrito capital of the world, to study at the London School of Economics. During his tortila-121-btenure as a student at the prestigious institution, he wrote a thesis on Mexican food in London in which he noted that the cuisine was poorly represented. Having arrived in London from San Francisco where a blend of Mexican and Californian styles is hugely popular, Brandon felt that there was a significant opportunity to enter into the UK market and excitedly founded Tortilla.

Beginning with his first Islington restaurant, the business proved to be a hit with the locals and quickly expanded to include new locations throughout the London with Richard Morris joining the business as Managing Director in January 2014. “Brandon had established the brand across 10-11 locations when I first met him. He was interested in exploring other opportunities, so I came into the business as CEO for Tortilla to manage and continue to grow the company. Having consolidated our 11 existing locations we decided to raise some money by refinancing with an aim to open eight to nine restaurants a year until we reached 40-45 locations,” Richard explains. “We are currently on plan and although we haven’t opened as many stores as we would have liked, we are presently established in 32 locations with a further three or more planned for 2017. The business has gone from strength to strength and has been very successful, with a projected turnover for 2017 of £30 million with stores established all over the country.”

Capitalising on the popularity of its exciting Mexican/Californian inspired menu, Tortilla is now established in 18 locations throughout Greater and Central London, as well as across 13 other major cities around the UK including Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. “We took the decision to open outside of London around 18 months ago and the brand has been generally well received. Sales growth has been slightly slower outside of London, purely because Mexican food, burritos and tacos are relatively common in London when compared to the rest of the country. While a new restaurant opened in London is typically busy within the first six months this can take up to 18 months elsewhere, however once the brand has been fully understood the trading grows quickly,” tortila-121-cRichard says. “It can be a leap of faith for customers to walk into a restaurant that they do not know. We make it possible for diners to be the architect of their own burrito or taco from the food on offer, which initially can be a daunting prospect, as they do not necessarily know our naming conventions such as carnitas or barbacoa. We also offer options such as guacamole, different types of rice, salsas and cater for a wide range of dietary requirements, but once people come in and see our food they understand that it is made fresh onsite everyday and that the price point is very competitive. Customers quickly understand that this represents great value, as they are able to customise their food. Our menu can be really healthy or it can be proper comfort food.”

Each of the company’s Tortilla restaurants are designed to project a San Francisco theme, while incorporating unique features that differentiates each individual location. The design elements of the restaurants include deep red tiles that signify the redwood trees found in San Francisco and rustic beer cages that are stocked with both Mexican and Californian beers. Several new locations have opened around the UK during 2016, while Tortilla has also continued to on its path to ‘world domination’ by opening its second branch in the space of three months in Dubai, at the Riverland theme park belonging to Dubai Parks & Resorts. As the business continues to grow, Tortilla will continue to seek out new sites and establish its presence around the UK and beyond. “We have now opened two locations in Dubai, one of which is located in the Festival City Mall, while the other is situated at the Riverland theme park. We have plans to open a further three or four restaurants each year in the MENA region and have two planned for Saudi Arabia during 2017 with a third site planned for Dubai, which will operate as franchises. They are not owned or run by us but we know the franchise company quite well and have a good relationship with them, so the relationship works very well and they are doing a really good job,” Richard concludes. “We have a fantastic product and we are keen to keep it competitively priced. We currently employ over 500 people across the business and a big focus next year is looking after them and making sure we have very clear career progression in place. We always aim to put our stores and customers first, and it is really important that our teams see a long term career with Tortilla.”