This post is part of the “Small Business, Big Ideas” series, in which business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators share their stories of overcoming obstacles and achieving success. “Small Business, Big Ideas” is sponsored by Chase.
In less than four years since launching in New York City’s Union Square, Dos Toros Taqueria has earned a cult following and expanded to four locations in the city, with another opening in Washington D.C. this year.
It all started with a simple realisation.
Brothers Leo and Oliver Kremer from Berkeley, Calif., were visiting New York in the fall of 2008 when they tried to get a burrito.
Not only were they underwhelmed by the local offerings, but they were also shocked not to find any in the (San Francisco) Mission style, with thin, flaky tortillas and a ton of filling.
“The burrito is not a revolutionary idea. But there were no good burritos in New York. That was weird,” says Leo, the older of the siblings at 32. “We thought, ‘Someone should do that.’ Once we had that realisation, it became an execution challenge, being that we had zero experience.”
“The whole business opportunity is to bring this to a place where it is unavailable,” Leo says.
The brothers both took jobs at Mexican restaurants to understand the workings behind a burrito business. They also conducted preliminary research in September 2008, embarking on an epic Mexican culinary tour that involved eating at 35 Mexican places in 10 days. It took them a year to perfect their own burrito recipe.
“We grew up on the customer side, eating this stuff,” says Oliver. “So, we agonized over everything from that perspective. In addition to the product, we observed everything in restaurants from how many inches people are sitting above the floor to even how the napkin dispensers are aligned. Every little thing about Dos Toros we obsessed over.”
Walk into a Dos Toros location and you’ll see heavy wood and leather stools. The music playlist won’t repeat a song for days (as for their musical taste, it helps that Leo is the former bassist of rock band Third Eye Blind).
Personality is valued more in their new hires than the ability to assemble a burrito. They look for friendly, warm people who embody the Dos Toros culture. Hiring the right people, they say, has been key to their success.
“Pre-opening, we obsessed about the logo, website, logistical stuff,” says Leo. “But since opening the restaurant, it’s suddenly become all about the people. Finding, managing and training employees has become the focus.”
Today, with approximately 80 employees, Dos Toros has created two music videos that capture the founders’ hip, fun-loving spirit. There’s the creative twist on the Unk song “Walk It Out” — better known as “Guac it Out” — along with their most recent version of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow”-turned “Black or Pinto” which announced their new Williamsburg location.
While the videos generated a lot of buzz, they were more about capitalising on the team’s many creative talents than marketing. Oliver says the best part about starting Dos Toros is being able to promote and recognise staff.
Despite their success, Dos Toros is in no rush to become a franchise or corporate entity.
“We want to expand to other cities in a controlled, organised way. We like things slow and simple,” says Oliver.
Dos Toros is a curated example of a San Francisco burrito, but there is a slim-to-none chance that it will make its way back home.
“Our whole reason for being is to bring everything in the Bay Area to the places where it isn’t,” says Leo. “We’re not about making things complicated.”
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