Atlanta’s Escobar Restaurant & Tapas Lounge is for the 25 and older crowd, co-founder Mychel “Snoop” Dillard says. The hardworking urban professionals and entrepreneurs.
But it’s also for the celebrities, and the list is eye-catching—Snoop Dogg, T.I., singer/songwriter Jacquees, former NBA player Stephen Jackson, and rap artist Trina.
The restaurant, which Dillard co-founded with Grammy award-winning rapper 2 Chainz, features a night club atmosphere with blue sofas in the VIP area, gold-stained flooring, and multi-colored tiling by the bar. Walk-ins are accepted, but if one wants a table and bottle service, reservations are taken up to three months out.
Escobar serves lunch and dinner every day until 10 p.m. with a menu curated by Chef Dephon Robinson, who’s worked with celebrities such as Queen Latifah and Gabrielle Union. After 10 p.m., the restaurant transforms into a lounge and offers drinks and music until 3 a.m.
The first Escobar opened in 2016 and the second unit debuted three years later. There’s also a spinoff concept, Esco Seafood.
With the right systems now in place, the chain is preparing for a franchise expansion strategy. FSR recently sat down with Dillard to learn more about Escobar’s growth and where development will take place.
How was Escobar founded?
The concept was founded amongst myself and my business partner, Grammy award-winning rapper 2 Chainz. Pretty much, we just decided that we wanted to create something that would be for the 25 and up crowd, that would have just a really dope vibe. Like for example, the Mercedes Benz is our DJ booth—gold-wrapped Mercedes-Benz.
Our food is really good. I wanted to create something that would serve good food options late at night. Because here in Atlanta, we, at the time, struggled with that and so this is a restaurant where you can get lamb chops, lobster tails, pasta, different things of that nature all the way up until 2 o’clock in the morning. And just having not only great food, but great music to go along with it as well as just a good ambiance and vibe. That pretty much was the foundation of our brand.
What made now the right time to start franchising?
This December will be six years for our first location. So we feel like we have the systems in place to be able to help other people be able to open up their own restaurant and see a lot of the success that we’ve had. This Escobar brand has pretty much been unstoppable even through the pandemic. Our numbers have soared during the pandemic. And so we feel like we’ve got the systems in place to be able to help people be successful, no matter what’s going on in the world now.
The way you describe the vibe and the environment and the menu, it seems like a very elaborate concept across the board. As far as being able to replicate that atmosphere in multiple franchises stores, what will be the keys?
The key will be using the systems that we’ve put in place. Number one is just going to start with the restaurant and the look and the decor of it. The venue needs to have a patio. People love patios, especially when the weather is nice. The colors that we’ve used in the core just really give it a nice party feel. So it’s not just a restaurant, but it’s a lounge, as well. That’s going to be really key, as well as following the recipes that we have set out for the food items that will be on the menu to make sure that everything is consistent and tastes the same.
Could you describe to me the, some of the characteristics that you guys would look for in a potential franchisee?
So some of our requirements, number one, they have to have at least $150,000 in capital liquid, two years of tax returns showing that they have been bringing in a decent amount of money and have been filing their taxes responsibly, three months of bank statements, a 600 minimum credit score, and the operator of the business must must have four years of experience in the hospitality industry. This is just not an industry that you can just hop into without any experience. You can definitely own a restaurant without any experience, but whoever is going to be operating that business definitely is going to need to have some experience in the hospitality industry.
The restaurants do well in the large metropolitan city, but they do good in some of these mid-sized cities, as well. I wouldn’t recommend any city that’s just super, super small, four stoplights, or anything like that. But those are some of the things that we’re looking for. Somebody that’s just really business savvy, that has experience creating a team and building a team of the right individuals.
When I was perusing your website, I saw the house rules that you guys had, which I thought was pretty fun. Can you share the development of those?
We actually came up with those house rules during the pandemic. So Atlanta was one of the very few cities that remained open while a lot of other places were closed. Being that was the case, people were just really different during the pandemic. I think after being locked down for the amount of time that individuals had to be locked down, they just came out a little buck wild to be honest with you. And so we ended up developing those house rules due to that. And so, all of the franchisees will have to observe those house rules at their locations, as well. It just really helped us to be able to keep our clientele safe as well as maintain the integrity of our restaurant and just let people know the rules of each location right off the bat so they know what to understand and what we will and will not accept while you’re patronizing our restaurant.
Do you have like a timeline of when you would like to start signing agreements with franchisees and when you think potentially a franchise store could open? Is there a goal you have set for yourself?
So we have a few deals on the table right now and some people that are moving through the process, so hopefully we’ll be signing our first franchise agreement within the next 30 days.
Looking ahead to the future, what do you think Escobar is capable of achieving?
Within the next two years, we would like to at least have 10-15 locations. That’s really our short-term goal. I really think that the sky is the limit. If we stay focused and make sure that we bring on franchisees that are qualified and have that hospitality industry experience, I really think that this is something that can go super far. like I said we’ll be celebrating our six-year anniversary this year in our downtown location, so I don’t see us stopping anytime soon.