“The original restaurant was out on the outskirts of town you know kind of in the suburbs. The second was at one of the strongest areas for restaurants in the city [Houston],” Holt says. “It was really a test to see will the restaurant, will the concept travel.”
“It didn’t take off immediately,” he adds, “but it was clear it was going to be a success and the sales were growing. Things were going well so within 12 months we moved to open a third location.”
Since then Lupe’s has expanded to 20 locations, opening two to three stores each year in Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. The company will break into the Dallas-Fort Worth market this year with three restaurants slated to open by the end of 2019 and another three in 2020.
“Our expansion philosophy is to go into a city and fully develop the market as opposed to hopscotching the country,” Holt says. “We’ve kind of been students of success and failure of our peers and some of the mistakes that we’ve made has been putting distance between your stores for the sake of opening one in a city whether it be because it’s fun to go there or your market research says ‘Oh yeah Denver’s a good city,’ well yeah but we feel out of balance.”
Holt points out the brand is at a point where it could franchise, but they have yet to find the right partners and are not actively pursuing that avenue.
“There are certain areas of the country that we know we’re not going to go to ourselves,” Holt says. “If a known restaurant group is having success in full service and has the experience and capital and the right infrastructure and everything to expand Lupe, say like in California, and understand that market and had an interest we would be open to the concept of regional franchising.”
The new locations are a mix of remodels and updated construction. In the beginning, the first few locations were built from the ground up, but over the past few years Lupe Tortillas have opened in retrofitted venues that were previously similar restaurants, like On The Border Mexican Grills.
The charming look of the original Lupe Tortilla location was replicated a few times when the company started expanding. However, that design would not allow the chain to go into certain locations. Holt says, in order to open in those newer developments, the brand needed to modernize.
“We wanted to go into more developed centers and we were finding we were getting rejected because of the outside look and feel of our building. So, we redesigned the exterior of the building for that,” Holt says. “We felt like while it was charming and cute, the little house didn’t have a presence of we know what we’re doing. We redesigned it early on.”
The original locations also didn’t have a full-service bar, so that was worked into the redesign as well.