Jose Ramirez, the seventh of 15 children, came to the U.S. from Mexico in search of a better life for his family. His goal was to open a restaurant, and after years of saving and sleeping in his car after grueling shifts at work, he was able to do so. He named his concept Los Dos Potrillos—or “the two colts” in English—after his sons, Luis and Daniel Ramirez.
When the first Los Dos Potrillos opened its doors in 2002, the “now open” sign was tied onto a pole; Jose did not have a ladder to hang it properly. He was running a restaurant with a dream and only $5.18 in his bank account. His sons Luis and Daniel Ramirez are true restaurant kids—they ate, slept, and had birthday parties at the Centennial, Colorado-based Mexican establishment.
The initial location expanded from 1,500 to 4,900 square feet in a few years, and by 2008, Jose opened another restaurant. For years, Jose was satisfied with having two locations. This was his American dream. His guests enjoyed the authentic Mexican cuisine and a family friendly, “hole-in-the-wall” atmosphere. The menu quickly became a hit, with made-from-scratch American wagyu steak fajitas, family platters, taquitos, etc. Customers sipped on margaritas, beer, and wine during happy hour.
In 2016, Luis and Daniel decided to become more involved and expand the brand’s footprint. By 2018, Los Dos Potrillos doubled in size with locations throughout Colorado in Highlands Ranch, Littleton, and Parker. The Parker location, dubbed Los Dos Potrillos Mexican Restaurant y Cerveceria, is the only one of its kind in Colorado. It is part Mexican restaurant, part brewery, serving taquiza and margaritas under the same roof. Twelve distinct types of beers are offered, from Mexican lagers to IPA sours.
As the brand scaled to four locations, food trucks, and more, Luis and Daniel created a corporate structure called Ramirez Hospitality Group to manage operations, in which the brothers both serve as co-CEOs. “The bigger we get, the smaller we become,” Daniel says.
This year served as a turning point for the Mexican eatery. The Ramirez brothers branched out with a hybrid fast-casual concept called Los Dos Potrillos Cocina y Cantina, which debuted in April.
“It’s everything that you love about our current stores, but we don’t have servers, only food runners,” Daniel explains. “We have a great bar program and our top 50 menu items from the same quality [as the other locations].”
For Daniel, the biggest hurdle in developing a fast casual was organizing the floor plan. Even with 5,000 square feet to play with, lines were becoming a problem and tables were not flipping fast enough. The solution to this was creating two different stations within the line, one offering free samples of homemade tortillas and the other green chili and queso. This was particularly helpful for families waiting in line with their children.
“Margins there can be a little fine, to say the least,” Daniel says. “But by the time they get to the front of the line, they already know what to get. They are trying combinations [of items], and it has worked to our advantage.”
Other drawbacks, such as understanding the differences in customer attitudes and behavior between fast casual and full service, have been noted. However, Daniel describes this as a learning process. His goal is to find pockets along Colorado’s I-25 highway to open more restaurants like the cantina. However, he does not foresee any partnerships with third-party delivery companies that most quick-service-style establishments have.
“We love to hand food to the customer, and offer an experience when you walk in,” Daniel says. “The restaurant looks fresh and Instagram friendly … when we go into a new market, we want to win the community over [by seeing them in person].”
Daniel believes expansion through a franchisee network is possible with the right group of people. Ideally, he is looking for a candidate who loves both the food and the vision of Los Dos Potrillos. He wants to help others craft their American dreams, much like his father did for his family. “[I want] someone who wants to create a legacy for their family and kids,” Daniel explains. “I want it to feel like it is a family and continue to be a family-owned brand.”
Later this year, Los Dos Potrillos will embark on its first ground-up venture in Castle Rock. The projected 9,000 square-foot location will have “immaculate, unobstructed views to the south and west side of Colorado,” Daniel says. He goes on to describe it as “the Mona Lisa of Potrillos.”
This location is projected to become the main hub of Los Dos Potrillos, partly because a full brewery and margarita garden will be located on-site. The expanded brewery will provide Mexican lagers to other locations, which will streamline the supply chain. “The lagers are what most people want, and that is the one thing we tend to run out of the most,” Daniel explains. “We do not ever want to tell them we do not have enough to sell. We want to focus on [the brewery].”
By 2028, the Ramirez brothers want to reach 12 locations in Colorado with a mixture of full service and fast casual. Daniel says there’s room for more growth in Colorado, with a ground-up location already in the works for 2023 and more to come in the next two years. He also wants to reach $100 million in market sales. Locations are averaging about $7 million per store.
Outside of Colorado, Daniel is eyeing Wyoming and Kansas as target markets, alongside the I-25 corridor.
The Ramirez brothers seek to use Los Dos Potrillos as a vessel to open doors and create careers within the industry, just like their father did over two decades ago. Daniel tells the story of one of his store managers, who started at Los Dos Potrillos at age 15, as a host. Now she is 23 and running a million-dollar restaurant. “It doesn’t have to be a 15-year-old’s summer job,” Daniel says. “It can be a career. Age does not matter, it is about enjoying and loving what you do.”