TacoTime Embarks on a Nationwide Expansion, Modernization, and Innovative Offerings in 2024 [Interview]

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TacoTime is currently in the midst of an evolution that aims to achieve steady growth and brand modernization nation-wide. 

There are three versions of TacoTime. In the U.S., there are 118 locations primarily in the western part of the country. In Canada, there are 130 locations. Those two divisions are owned by MTY. The original owner of TacoTime also has the master franchise for the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. with about 75 locations.

The brand is 65 years old in the U.S. and 45 years old in Canada.

Taco Time Eagle Creek (Image: Taco Time)

Wendy Derzai, Vice President of Taco Time Canada at MTY Food Group, said many more locations are coming to the country. 

Wendy Derzai Minnett

“We’ll open a minimum of 10 new stores next year. Probably closer to 12 or 14. We have a lot of new deals. There’s some great internal growth in our brand. 80 per cent of the growth is coming from within the brand. Current franchisees want more locations,” she said.

“The best model for us is a drive-thru location which is my preferred but now I have increased competition because Starbucks is getting into the drive-thru game. So now it’s not just the burger brands and the Tim Hortons I have to fight with, I have to fight with Starbucks too.

“But we still have lots of drive-thrus that are opening and that’s good. My second choice would be what we call a street store and street store typically I like to do end caps with good visibility to the street that has enough parking, just because we do a lot of aggregator or third party delivery services. And now we have our own TacoTime app. So we have our own delivery services now.”

She said mall locations would be her least favourite real estate option for the brand because it is already in the best malls it needs to be in with A class shopping centres.

“However, if a mall location came up in Ontario let’s say in an emerging market where we’re just starting to grow then I would probably consider it,” said Derzai. “But it would really depend on where it is.

“Right now we’re pushing into Ontario. We’re already in northern Ontario. We’re already in Timmins and Thunder Bay and those stores do really well. We’ve got some nodes in Ontario that we’re building out right now. One of them is in the Trenton area. We’re opening a drive-thru location in Trenton. That should be open in early 2025 and then we have Welland which will be open Q3, maybe Q4, next year. We’re also looking at the St. Catharines, Hamilton area. Looking at Ottawa. 

“We have probably capacity for 300 stores in Ontario alone. It’s just a matter of making sure that we’re smart about where we start. In an emerging market where the brand is not as well known as it is in the West, we have to be just really careful where we open and make sure it’s got what we consider an A spot . . .  We’re also looking at Eastern Canada. We’re looking at Halifax, St. John’s and Fredericton.” 

Taco Time Eagle Creek (Image: Taco Time)

It’s been a time of transformation for TacoTime in Canada. Derzai said there have been dramatic changes.

“Now we are at the point where we are now an innovative and modern QSR brand where I couldn’t have said that before. We were really required to up our game because there was a lot of stores that just did not get renovated in that 10-year span when they were supposed to be,” she said.

“The new design is beautiful. It’s affordable for the franchisees which is the key factor here. And it sort of lends itself to a more modern connoisseur. It suits our loyal, close customers which we have to be careful not to alienate but it also brings in that new (younger customer). We made it fun and energetic and bright and colourful. Just kind of a place where people want to hang out.”

The website, social channels and all marketing assets have had a major overhaul over the last couple of years and they have updated their approach to digital marketing to be more effective in the current consumer landscape, including the addition of a dedicated app with a loyalty program for customers.

TacoTime is the original home of Taco Tuesday, something it has trademarked, and currently serves over 2.5 million tacos and 3.2 million hand-rolled burritos annually.

Since 2021, TacoTime has renovated nearly 30 existing locations and opened more than a dozen new restaurants.

Image: Taco Time

Derzai, who is a chef by trade, said the freshness and the real food aspect was really critical to set the brand apart from its main competitor. 

“We are developing a program now where we’re incorporating some flavours of the world which we’re going to look into in 2024,” she said.

TacoTime Canada is also venturing into the world of food trucks in partnership with one franchisee who will be touring Canada next year on the ‘Hometown Taco Tour’, which will bring new and existing menu items to towns and cities from coast to coast. 

Image: Taco Time

TacoTime Canada first opened its inaugural location in Lethbridge, Alberta, in 1978.

“TacoTime was founded with a belief that fresh, real ingredients make better food, and we are delighted to be commemorating 45 years of upholding this commitment to excellence in Canada,” said Derzai. “Our passion lies in bringing exceptional service and unbeatable taste to our customers, and that’s reflected in every bite. We use locally sourced Canadian ingredients and take pride in crafting every element of our menu with care, from our original recipe hot sauces to our hand-rolled Crisp Burritos and fan-favourite Mexi-Fries®.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

6 COMMENTS

  1. I never understood why TacoTime never became bigger in Canada. Taco Bell is disgusting and gross. TacoTime was always very different and higher quality. MexiFries were excellent. Perhaps poor locations or poor advertising? I hope they come back strong!

  2. Oddly enough, my local TacoTime is the featured location in this article. It really does look great in person, and manages to be a fairly busy storefront despite not having great street visibility nor a drive-thru, which perhaps is a good testament to the potential of TacoTime’s new direction. Add in a few vegan offerings and I could see TacoTime adopting A&W’s “better than” approach in Canada’s Mexican fast food market.

  3. I hope they bring backcourt the old queso… the new one is flavourless 🙁 Also, the Bonnie Don location uses crushed up taco shells for their chips and has awful service.

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