“We’re growing at a pretty good clip right now. I feel like I’m always looking at sites or we’re signing franchisees. We’re kind of on a pace of 25 to 30 locations a year. Things have picked up a little bit now. So probably at the higher end for this next coming year,” says Steve Gill, President, CEO and Founder and CEO of Quesada.
“There’s more than enough room for us to get to 300 locations in Canada even with all the other competition that’s growing around us. That’s kind of in the traditional market. We’re also getting into more universities, and hospitals. Things like that. We’ve got one airport hopefully coming down the pipeline. Hopefully more than one.”
The first location for the Mexican restaurant chain was in May 2004 in Toronto. Gill had been working in Colorado and came to love the food. “The experience of sort of a hand-held full meal in a wrap kind of thing.”
But he left Colorado in 2002 and came back home to Toronto.
“I started looking for locations, working on the business plan and the recipes and opened 2004. The first store was right downtown Toronto about one block from the Skydome or Rogers Centre,” said Gill.
Today, the chain has about 128 locations across Canada - and is constantly growing.
Gill said he’s always believed that he got lucky with the right idea at the right time.
“I have quite a lot of experience now but then I didn’t. Right from day one people were lining up right on the sidewalk when we just had the one location. And driving from very far because no one was doing it at that time. We had people coming in from the suburbs to downtown for a burrito or tacos,” he said.
“At that time, it was the trend towards getting healthier food fast instead of saying fast food. And what I’ve seen since we opened is just more and more people looking for more variety and taste buds have gotten more adventurous over the years. We’ve seen that even in our own restaurant from day one until now. It was about three or four years before we added a really spicy chipotle chicken onto our menu and that’s the most popular thing we sell. The whole spice level has gone up over the years. We started at the right time for that trend.”
Keeping up with trends, Quesada recently launched its Beyond Meat Burrito as a permanent menu item.
“We were catering for the Toronto Film Festival two or three years ago. And we were just testing out a sweet potato item as well as the traditional meat like pork and beef and chicken. I’m not sure why but I just asked this one guy that was in line ‘can I ask you a personal question? Why did you order the sweet potato?’ and he goes ‘to tell you the truth I’m not a vegetarian I’m just a tourist in the vegetarian world’,” said Gill.
“That kind of struck me because I think I saw the same thing in myself but I never put a label to it and since then we’ve been noticing it more and more. We’ve been getting more requests for additional vegetarian items. Even before the word plant-based became popular. That marketing of it has really made a difference and opened it up to a lot of people who just want to eat healthier.”
The 1% for the Planet’ is a growing global movement and non-profit organization focused on environmental change in Canada, and around the world. By joining, Quesada commits to donating one per cent of annual sales of its Beyond Meat Burrito to support environmental non-profit partners focused on issues such as sustainable food systems and climate change.
“We're excited to welcome Quesada to our growing, global movement," said Kate Williams, CEO of 1% for the Planet. "Currently, only three per cent of total philanthropy goes to the environment. The planet needs bigger support than this, and Quesada is among corporate leaders doing their valuable part to increase giving and support on issues that matter to consumers and our planet.”
The organization was founded in 2002. Today, 1% for the Planet has more than 2,000 members in over 45 countries who have given back more than $225 million to environmental non-profits.
“Joining 1% for the Planet aligns with our company-wide goal to make positive environmental changes from the inside out. We want to inspire our customers and employees to want to do more for the earth,” said Gill.
Quesada will work with 1% for the Planet to develop giving strategies that support Canadian environmental non-profits. In addition, Quesada is developing meaningful ways employees can support environmental causes in their own communities.
“The beauty of it is that at the same time as we’re helping support them with funds I think they’re going to provide us with some education on how to do things better,” added Gill. “They have resources we don’t have.”
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.