Chef-Driven Mexicue Blends Cuisines, Service Models to Sucess

Mexicue combines American barbecue with Mexican flavors and carriers, like this Cajun Fish Tacos dish.
Mexicue combines American barbecue with Mexican flavors and carriers, like this Cajun Fish Tacos dish. Mexicue

Blending, mixing, infusing—whatever you want to call it, foodservice has embraced fusion cuisine with open arms. From Korean tacos to chorizo-filled galettes, the combinations are nearly endless, and many have yet to be explored.

Enter Mexicue, a New York City–based concept combining American barbecue with Mexican flavors and carriers.

Started as a food truck by Chef Thomas Kelly in 2010, Mexicue has since evolved into three brick-and-mortar stores.

“We’ve taken southern American barbecue and Mexican cuisine as the inspiration for the food that we’re doing,” Kelly says.

What started with three tacos and three sliders in a food truck has evolved into a menu filled with salads, bowls, burritos, enchiladas, tacos, and more. “We want to make sure we’re giving people as many options as possible and catering to a diverse set of potential customers,” Kelly says.

And the fusion doesn’t stop at the menu; the first of Kelly’s locations is a quick serve, while the latter two are full service. It’s less of a blend than a brand evolution.

“We bootstrapped our way to our first brick-and-mortar restaurant with a little bit of friends and family type funding,” Kelly says. After opening the first location on 7th Avenue, Mexicue was able to attract bigger investors, including Ruby Tuesday founder Sandy Beall. “When Sandy came on as a partner, we took the opportunity to take a step back and look at how we wanted to grow the Mexicue brand and the experience we wanted to really create with more resources behind us. At that point, the concept evolved to what it is today.”

That meant expanding beyond quick serve and into the realm of what Kelly calls “quick casual” with a full kitchen and bar. The model ended up being the sweet spot for Mexicue. In many ways it is like the emerging class of fast casual 2.0 concepts: ticket times are still around five minutes or under; entrée prices hover between $10 and $15; and the menu features simple, chef-reimagined dishes.

The lines between limited and full service are becoming faint, to the point that the presence of servers is the only clear divide. Mexicue decided wait staff would be best for its purposes, but even that decision seems to fall in the middle of an ever-shrinking chasm.

“In terms of the environment and the experience that we’re creating for our customers, it’s casual and it’s personal. We don’t have our servers wear uniforms. We encourage them to be themselves and not follow a script. I think there’s a casual element that … you’re not finding in most full-service restaurants, particularly fine dining,” Kelly says.

Like many new concepts that are embracing elements of both service styles, Mexicue also boasts an impressive bar. Continuing the fusion theme, the cocktail list can be neatly divided between bourbons and tequilas—“they happened to be spirits that we loved and they happened to play well of the concept,” Kelly says. He adds that the specialty cocktails, which feature premium ingredients, fresh herbs, and house-made syrups, have become core to Mexicue. The Mexican Mule combines bourbon, ginger beer, chili ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, and ginger, while the Mezcal Manhattan mixes mezcal, kummel, a floral absinthe, bitters, and a lime twist.

Kelly says New York still holds opportunities for growth, but beyond that, other Northeast markets, including Philadelphia and D.C., are worth exploration.

“We’re trying to take our growth one step at a time and grow our brand organically and not too quickly,” Kelly says. “But yeah, we’re starting to look at places outside of New York City.”

By Nicole Duncan

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