On the edge of acquisition, bartaco sticks to its sense of self.

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Coastal, upscale taco brand bartaco knows what sort of experience it is looking to create for its guests. “I think we can all agree that life looks a little different when you have your toes in the sand,” says Sabato Sagaria, president. “It’s being able to create something that evokes that for us regardless of what city you’re in.”

Since 2010, the brand has been transporting guests to that beach mentality whether they’re landlocked in Boulder, Colorado, or on the harbor in Port Chester, New York. It is 17 locations strong today, serving travel- and food truck–inspired dishes like Baja Fish tacos, Glazed Pork Belly tacos, and lettuce cup Tuna Tatako tacos alongside fresh-squeezed margaritas in a laid back atmosphere that feels like a friend’s beach house, Sagaria says. The sun comes in with ceiling fans going, while customers sit on the deck filling out the menu card with friends, coworkers, and family. “It becomes interactive,” he says of the cards. “Instead of having four people sitting at a table looking at a piece of paper in silence, the conversation starts immediately.”

As it’s grown, bartaco has aimed to design each location with the community it serves in mind. “Each one is unique in its own sense,” Sagaria says. Asheville, North Carolina, in the mountains is much different than Tampa, Florida. “We wanted to take inspiration from the surrounding communities, but do so through the lens of bartaco,” he says.

Favorite menu item right now: Roasted maitake mushroom tacos with sweet corn puree, asparagus and corn relish. —Sabato Sagaria, bartaco

And it seems there will be many more communities to consider in the future. Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group Inc.—owner of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Grille, and Sullivan’s Steakhouse—announced its plans to acquire bartaco’s parent company Barteca—including Barcelona Wine Bar—in May. Although the unit count was only 16 at the time of the announcement—with 30 approved sites over both Barteca brands—Del Frisco’s estimates the total market potential for bartaco to be upward of 300 restaurants domestically.

It is anyone’s guess how the acquisition will affect the brand’s growth strategy. Del Frisco’s has not released the number of total bartaco units planned for 2019. Up until the acquisition, however, Barteca had opened a couple of locations each year, exploring the East Coast and the Midwest, with a larger growth spurt in 2015 due to private equity investments.

People are the brand’s top priority as the team looks to the future. “Ultimately it’s our team and the people that bring it to life, day in and day out,” Sagaria says. “That’s something that you can’t just churn out; that’s something that we build every day. We’re paying more and more attention to that as we move forward.”

The brand would like to use the talent they have to fuel growth. “I really applaud the founders for being thoughtful about growth,” Sagaria says. “That’s something that we can continue to keep at the forefront of our minds as we start to look at opportunities for continued development.”

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, NextGen Casual, Special Reports