Mexican food business Las Olas Fresh Mex Grill is to roll out a national franchise network in a bid to cash in on Australia’s increasingly crowded “fast casual” food market.
Las Olas was founded by Californian-born Michael Baker, who opened the first takeaway venue in the Victorian coastal town of Torquay and began franchising in 2008.
Baker says he identified a gap in the market for healthy, fresh Mexican food while on a surfing trip.
After opening his first store, Baker was joined by business partner Achalen Holmes, and an additional two stores were opened. The pair has since decided to make the leap into franchising.
“Ideally, we’d like to expand locally. However, we’ve been fielding more questions from further afield – WA, Queensland and NSW,” Baker says.
Baker says Australians’ taste for Mexican food is “trending up”, which he believes will help raise the brand’s profile.
“We’ve been trying to break people away from what used to be considered Mexican food and we think what we have is vastly improved,” he says.
Las Olas is the latest Mexican food chain in a long line of similar offerings: Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill, Guzman Y Gomez and Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill are a few examples of other successful start-ups.
Clovis Young is the co-founder of Mad Mex, which recently came fifth in the StartupSmart Awards top 50. Young says he and his wife were inspired to start their business based on the lack of quality Mexican food in Australia.
“The Mexican food market is underdeveloped here because the food quality has been so poor. There’s a gaping hole in this market needed to be filled with fresh, high quality, fast casual Mexican… hence Mad Mex,” he says.
According to Young, Max Mex was one of the first “fast casual” restaurant offerings in Australia, a retail category that is becoming increasingly popular among Australian consumers.
Similarly, Guzman Y Gomez founder Steven Marks says he took inspiration from the fast casual concept already established in the United States, where restaurant-quality food is served quickly.
“In Australia, you had traditional fast food and the restaurants, and the restaurants are very expensive. There’s nothing in between,” he says.
Janine Ellis, founder of renowned smoothie chain Boost Juice, also saw an opportunity to tap into the market, hence the creation of Salsa’s Fresh Mex Grill.
“We understand the Australian fast casual food market. We’re seasoned operators and we love being able to use our knowledge to bring fresh Mex to the masses,” Ellis has said.
Simon McNamara, cGuzman Y Gomez, theo-founder of franchise investment fund Inkuberra, is a founding shareholder in healthy burger chain Grill’d and former chief executive of Boost Juice.
McNamara identifies the fast casual food market as the strongest area of food retail in the current economic climate.
“You’re getting restaurant-quality food and you’re getting it in a nice environment but you’re only paying 12 to 15 bucks,” he says.
“That segment has been doing well because people post-GFC are more dollar-conscious and more value-driven.”