Executive Chat featuring Mike Mohammed, CEO and CFO of Chronic Tacos


From left to right, the Mohammed brothers: Joey, Michael, Dan and Dave

Michael Mohammed is the CEO and CFO of Chronic Tacos Enterprises, a fast-casual franchise based out of San Clemente, CA, with 45 locations and growing. After helping finance the Vancouver franchise location in 2010, Michael and his three brothers acquired the company in 2012.

Michael has an extensive background in real estate development, finance and sales. Chronic Tacos is his first venture into the restaurant industry.

RP: What attracted you to Chronic Tacos?

MM: We helped finance Chronic Tacos when the company expanded their footprint and opened their first franchise location in Canada. I thought the food was amazing and liked the fact that all of the salsa, guacamole, pico de gallo, and chips are made fresh daily, in-house. I thought the brand was authentic, fun and unique and had tremendous opportunity for growth. I met the group that owned Chronic Tacos at the time and learned more about the history of the company and where it was heading.

When the opportunity arose to take control of the company, I was eager to begin as the new CEO and have been working on building a solid foundation for growth through investment in personnel and infrastructure ever since.

RP: Can you describe the history of Chronic Tacos?

MM: It was founded by Randy Wyner and Dan Biello. They opened their first store July 2002, in Newport Beach, CA. It started with the idea from Randy that in the area it was hard to find authentic flavored Mexican food in a cool atmosphere. There were little taquerias, and he wanted to provide authentic Mexican food in a fun, more social atmosphere, where music is playing and TVs are on. He was also a picky eater who wanted to customize his food, similar to a Subway or Chipotle.

Neither of them had any restaurant background, but they had partnered up with the Bonita family from Mexico and purchased the recipes from them. These are third-generation Mexican recipes that the family showed Randy and Dan how to make. The Bonita family was in the food industry and had owned restaurants in the past, so these are long-standing family recipes.

 They ended up opening another location in 2006, and there was a lot of buzz around it. People came from all over to have the food. The first franchise opened 2006, and we’ve expanded to Las Vegas and Canada since then. Chronic Tacos has now opened over 30 locations, with many more on the way.

2012 is when I got involved, and I am partners with my brothers through Calivan Enterprises. I moved down to San Clemente from Vancouver in 2012 to become the CEO.

RP: Can you describe the Chronic Tacos franchise system?

MM: There are currently over 30 franchise restaurants and, due to the growth, the model has evolved over the years. The first few restaurants had a California beach theme, but as we’ve expanded into other cities, we’ve also evolved the theme of the restaurant to include Day of the Dead art. It was a creative way to blend the authenticity of the food with the authenticity of the experience to keep it edgy and cool. We have worked with local artists in Vancouver and California to create the original art for our stores. For each franchise we open, we have murals painted on the walls.

We have single-unit, multi-unit and celebrity franchisees. This includes franchisees who have left the corporate world to open their own restaurant and people who have experience in the restaurant industry and want to become a multi-unit operator.

One of our franchisees is Wee Man from the MTV television show, Jackass. He opened a restaurant in Redondo Beach. He’s quite involved with his restaurant and is a great brand ambassador for Chronic Tacos.

RP: What has been the most interesting thing that has happened to you since taking over as CEO of Chronic Tacos?

MM: I think the most interesting and challenging part of operating Chronic Tacos has been working on the brand image. With the expansion of our franchise, we have spent a lot of time analyzing the brand so that our image is clear and cohesive across the board.

Learning the restaurant industry has been a fun experience and it has been an exciting process opening up Chronic Tacos locations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Being involved in the interior design of the restaurants has also been a great experience. We take a lot of pride in our restaurants. We have worked into our branding the “Taco Life” lifestyle, which is a culture that encourages individuality for customers and the restaurants also sell merchandise items with “Live the Taco Life” slogan. We want our customers, franchisees and employees alike to all enjoy the cool, hip and fresh vibe that anyone can experience at all of our restaurants.

RP: What are Chronic Tacos’ plans for the future?

MM: In the future, we are expanding to other areas on the West Coast: Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Texas. Over the next three or so years our goal is to open over 100 restaurants. We have a number of restaurants opening throughout California. We just opened a Chronic Tacos  at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas, our first food court venture; and we are going to continue scouting opportunities to open more locations at food courts because our model has proved to operate successfully in that environment.

Rebecca Patt specializes in executive recruiting for the restaurant industry. Need to recruit top leadership for your team? Contact her at rebecca.patt@wraysearch.com

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