From Food Truck to Brick-and-Mortar: Mexicue's Sizzling Strategy

Four years and a catering business later, New York City-based Mexicue is opening two restaurant locations this year in Manhattan. For the founders, the move to brick-and-mortar just made sense.

Continue Reading Below

“I think the food truck really helped us launch our brand, we were able to have the truck in very common areas around the city, but it’s not really an expendable model,” Mexicue CEO and co-founder David Shillace says.

Mexicue first opened its truck doors in 2010, and shortly after expanded into catering to meet customer demand. Shillace says a powerful investment team, which includes Ruby Tuesday founder Sandy Beall, has helped grow the brand.

He says getting the right backers took “a lot of hustling,” but it paid off.

“It’s a process. You start by building a rock-solid business plan [and then] go out and you have to shop it around,” he says. “[But] we now have probably one of the best investment teams in the nation that we’re incredibly excited about.”

Mexicue has grown to about 120 employees from five or six when it first launched. And today the co-founders say the number of variables facing food truck owners, from unexpected weather to fighting for parking and changing regulations, make running a restaurant a better bet.

“It’s a very difficult model to expend with because it’s very fragile, but it’s great to start with because it’s about one-tenth of the cost of opening a restaurant,” Shillace says. “It allows you to really test your brand [and] determine who your customer base is.”

However, Shillace admits that a bigger challenge than running the food truck has been lining up a strong team at every level -- management, accounting, legal and marketing. “Every aspect of our business we need the best to help us grow,” he says.

Shillace says the longer-term goal for Mexicue is to see the brand grow into a chain.

As for the future of the truck, while it will no longer roam the streets, it will be used for catering events and at festivals. When the Midtown Manhattan location opens this summer, it will seat about 70 guests, offering cocktails, margaritas, and beer to drink with meals from the full-service bar. The space, Shillace says, will have an “energetic, rustic” vibe and feature community-style picnic tables once ready.

He says the greatest lesson he’s learned during this time is that anything can happen if you just try.

“You never really know what can happen,” Shillace says. “Once you try and put yourself out there, good things happen.”