Guzman y Gomez founder Steven Marks has a self-confessed “sickness” that’s relentlessly obsessive.
“I have a sickness. I see everything, I read everything. It’s probably why I got divorced, she [his ex-wife] was probably like ‘You’re such a pain in the ass to eat with’, while I’m like ‘where do you think this came from?” he jokes.
Marks is a man on a mission.
He is openly going after the major players in the fast food industry, trying to make them serve what he calls “real” food.
“Did you know half the population eats at McDonald’s every week? But they eat there out of ease and convenience,” he told Business Insider.
“What’s in McDonald’s’ food is f***ing wrong, it’s disgusting and it’s not OK. Since when did fast food become bad food?”
His focus on the ingredients used by Guzman y Gomez (GYG) means he even threatened to move in next door to a supplier to keep an eye on him and ensure additives weren’t used.
“I remember this one time I was at the supplier of our pork shoulders, and I have these labels, right? And I watch them,” he says.
“I was in the facility walking past a box and I could see something I didn’t know, something had slipped in, it was like a natural gum.
“So I asked: ‘what’s that?’, and they said: ‘Oh, it’s a natural gum’.
“And I was like: ‘When did that get into my food?’, and they were like: ‘Well you know because meat prices are getting high, we just wanted to add a little bit of a thickener, it’s all natural’.”
“I went nuts,” says Marks.
“I was like: ‘Take it out, don’t you ever f***ing do that to me again. How dare you. That’s not OK.’
“I was so offended.
“I was like: ‘I’ll move up to Brisbane and live next door to you and watch you every day.’
“It was out that same day. They only ran it for a week.”
His passion for quality produce doesn’t stop with his suppliers.
“I’ve changed the corn chip 18 times,” admits Marks.
“I wanted it thicker and then I realised that when I cooked it I wanted the side to curl a little so it was crunchier.
“We take so much time making the guacamole that if you don’t have an adorable chip, that’s not fun. It’s been five years, everybody happy yet?”
He now is even thinking about growing produce that local farmers can’t supply him.
“We spend a lot of time with our farmers… I’ve got a beautiful relationship with them, together were going to make a difference.
“All my meats, all my veges, they’re all Australian. But my chillis come from Mexico, and some of my salsas I have to get made because I can’t get it here.
“Does that bother me? Yeah it bothers me but I want it to be authentic.
“We’re about to introduce a crop to Australia because I won’t use pickled tomatillo I have to use fresh.
“It’s going to be so cool.”
And despite how big GYG gets — it currently has 69 taquerias around Australia and another four overseas, and turns over around $150 million a year — that relationship with the suppliers is not going to change as they scale.
“I buy 22,000 kilos of avocados per week and go through 25,000 kilos of chicken.
“I want to show you can still do scale, and do it right.”
Marks said the proof is in his first drive-through store in Nerang, Queensland where food served in a matter of minutes — literally.
A single taqueria can serve up to 6,000 burritos a day — that’s just eight seconds to roll a burrito. And GYG can serve 75 cars per hour in drive-through.
“It’s just as fast as McDonald’s but all fresh food,” says Marks, adding that it’s all done without microwaves, or freezers.
“These are real kitchens.”
Guzman y Gomez has another 12 drive-through sites currently in the pipeline.
Marks’ the obsession with his food doesn’t even stop once it’s left the store with a customer. He’s even a GYG advocate when walking down the street.
“How about this, it’s a very funny story,” he remembers.
“I was waiting to get a passport photo — I’m sitting in World Square –, and I see a guy walking with a GYG bag.
“But as he’s walking he’s swinging the bag back and forth, and I’m like ‘Is this guy f***ing for real?!’
“So I chased him down, and I was like ‘Stop, you can’t do that! Do you know what goes into that food? You can’t just swing it! Just don’t do that. When you get back to your desk it’s not going to be as good.’
“He had a laugh, but he thought I was crazy.”
Marks says the success of his business comes down to this one simple thing: “do the right thing, and people will come”.
“I know what’s right. I know I have to take care of my people first, and I have to take care of my guests, and if I always to the right thing by them, I’m going to do alright.
“When you’re trying to lead a movement, and trying to make real change you’ve got to believe in yourself, and I believe in myself.”
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