What is your full name, title, and business name?
Joseph Kahn, CEO, Condado Tacos
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Condado Tacos is a build-your-own-taco joint operating since 2014, with our first location in the Short North Arts District in Columbus, Ohio. We’ve since added several more locations in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Detroit – with many more on the way! Grab some buds and join us in any of our street art styled restaurants, and soak up the atmosphere created by our unique staff and our gallery of a restaurant, all designed and painted by local artists.
At Condado, we’re all about the tacos, tequila, and margaritas (but we’re also pretty fond of our whiskeys, guacamole and craft drafts). Our main attraction is the build-your-own taco starting between $3.50 and $4.50, where choices range from the toppings all the way down to the shell. Unlike other taco joints, we let you choose exactly what you want, and however many you want. We pride ourselves on having fresh ingredients made every single day, from our salsas, toppings, and proteins to our house-made tortilla chips.
How did the idea for your business come about?
After over 20 years of working in the restaurant industry, I had a strong idea about what the ideal restaurant should, and could, be. I felt the need to create a place that had cravable, affordable, high-quality food and took inspiration from many of my favorite restaurants – Big Star in Chicago, Chipotle, Happy Dog, Edisons – and melted them all into one experience. I envisioned my restaurant as an exciting environment focused on culture and individuality while maintaining that vision through growth.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
The turning point came about seven months after our first location in the Short North opened. I came out from the kitchen and the entire place was full with a 45 table wait. I walked toward the door and saw there were close to 80 people standing outside in the snow, waiting to try our food. At that moment, I knew we had something special.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
I get to employ a lot of people and hopefully have a positive impact on their lives. I am fortunate to be able to pay exceptionally well, hire diverse and creative people, and establish a positive working environment to bring out the best work from great people. The people that work for me are at the forefront of every decision made and I believe that contributes to satisfying careers and happy people.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus means everything to Condado – it is our home base. Columbus has been exceptionally welcoming to a new restaurant concept and its residents have backed us all the way. The city and all that live and pass through Columbus have helped us create a viral sensation and they continue to support Condado as we grow outside of our home.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you here and ultimately what made you stay.
I am from Chicago. My business partners and I knew we wanted to take this concept national and Columbus is a national testing market for restaurant concepts. We knew if we did well here, we would do well in multiple markets. We quickly fell in love with Columbus — my wife and I now live here in German Village.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Take risks and stick to your guns! Even if it means failure.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
Everything [*laughs*] – but especially the financial components in the beginning. I wish I had the foresight and money to hire a CFO in the beginning. Thankfully, our current CFO, David Conley, has done a phenomenal job in directing us and teaching me along the way, so I can make better decisions professionally and personally.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
I deeply care about every detail of Condado, so it seems like everything keeps me up at night – we are constantly looking for new recipes and ideas to be unique. Not staying fresh or relevant are two big things that I focus a lot of my attention on. The last thing I want Condado to be is stagnant.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I have high expectations for people and in the beginning, I didn’t invest enough time and money in training and the people I employed. To develop great people you have to invest in them, otherwise, your expectations will never be met. Now, I can have high expectations for people, and we’re able to invest in supporting them in their journey at Condado – and beyond.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
Most business concepts fail because they are constantly switching gears, causing them to drift away from the visions the business was founded upon. We’ve stayed true to who we are since day one. I had a thought to do only tacos and we do only tacos extremely well.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
There are a lot of mistakes when starting a business but the biggest for us would be not hiring someone with strong business financial acumen, as a CFO, from the beginning. It cost the company a lot of money early on and although we were able to recover, many businesses are not so lucky.
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
Our restaurant management software integrates accounting, inventory, labor, and more all into one place. It simplifies multiple processes and business areas to maximize efficiency for our General Managers. At Condado, we use Compeat, but it’s important that every restaurant finds the systems that make the most sense for their business.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
I knew it was time to expand when we consistently had three hour/50 table waits. When I realized I needed someone better than myself to run the operations, we hired Johnny Zela, our current COO, around the same time things really started taking off at our original Short North location.
What is something that you did that was a game changer for your business?
Putting the double decker on the menu was an instant gamechanger. Nobody besides Taco Bell was doing it. We were really proud to put our own elevated spin on this great idea, and it truly sets us apart from other taco concepts.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out.
Early on, I made a lot of hiring decisions without knowing exactly what I was looking for. In some cases, it wasn’t until much later that I realized they were not a good fit for Condado.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
We invest in public relations and marketing, we have both an internal marketing team and we work with an external public relations partner, Belle Communication. It is worth it because it keeps us top of mind in the taco space and amplifies our brand 1000%. We are also proud to pay well above industry average in our restaurants. We recognize that the restaurant industry is competitive. By offering very competitive pay, we are able to attract top talent and experienced restaurant leaders who make Condado a better place for everyone involved.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Engineering a new back-of-house equipment piece that will give us greater efficiencies. It is a process to develop this, but it is exciting for all our teams.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Social media is extremely valuable and relevant to our culture and core audience. We are able to express our true brand voice and be unapologetically Condado. Our fans are highly engaged, loyal and vocal, and our team is always looking for new ways to engage with our followers.
Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)?
Our public relations partner, Belle Communication, is another Columbus-based organization. Their team consistently goes above and beyond with creative ideas to make sure Condado is putting it’s best foot forward as we grow.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Most often, I discuss business problems with the other partners in the business.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
Truthfully, we see Condado Tacos as a national brand within 10 years.
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business and how’d you recover?
Since opening Condado, I have made it a point to surround myself with people who lift me and my business up. There have been plenty of learning lessons along the way, but with the right people on the team, we’ve always been able to work through them and grow stronger because of it.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
I think about the fact that other people have been through this before and no matter how big the problem, it isn’t actually the end of the world. I also like to cook, I get in the kitchen and all my worries are gone.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
How much work it takes beyond your day-to-day “work.” It is all consuming and there is no break from it ever. Ever. Ever. Really…… ever. Outside of my family and friends, Condado is my biggest focus.
What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?
If I am not a part of it, I would hope my family or people in the business would want to take ownership. I want Condado to be my legacy and the legacy of all those that have invested so much more than time in it – those that put their entire soul into making Condado what it is.
How would your business fare if the economy hit a nasty downturn like it did in 2008? Have you prepared for this?
Honestly, I think we would continue to do very well because we are an affordable option.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Harry Synder and Esther Synder, the founders of In-N-Out Burger, and Danny Meyer of Shack Shack. These concepts have never compromised on who they are as a brand and it has made them great. I admire any concept that places a focus on maintaining their culture and consistency for an extended period of time. This is how we operate at Condado. We welcome feedback and we are always looking to improve, but we are who we are. We’re not afraid to say, “thank you, but this is just who we are.”
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Do: Go to a Columbus Crew game
See: Scioto Mile
Eat: Obviously, you should try one of Condado’s six Columbus locations. But, if you’re looking for another option, I also really love Northstar Cafe, which has several locations around Columbus.