Three successful Greenville-based restaurant groups have converged for one cause: tacos.
The owners of Tropical Grille, along with Tony’s Pizza & Subs owner Tony King, have entered into a franchise agreement with Tipsy Taco to open the newest location of the local Tex Mex brand on Woodruff Road in the former Havana Kitchen space that closed at the end of September.
The new franchisees plan to renovate the 7,200-square-foot restaurant at 1133 Woodruff Road and open the Tipsy Taco-branded space on Dec. 1.
“It’s no secret that tacos are big,” says Lazaro Montoto, Tropical Grille and Havana Kitchen co-owner.
Montoto says Havana Kitchen, which served traditional Cuban fare and featured weekend salsa dancing, was doing well sales-wise, but when he realized Tipsy Taco had begun franchising, he saw an opportunity with his prime location and building.
“It’s definitely more of a niche market,” Montoto says of Havana Kitchen that was open less than a year.
Montoto’s first Tropical Grille location on Pelham Road is in the same shopping center as the first Tipsy Taco. Being neighbors, the two groups became friends and watched their brands grow and expand to multiple locations, and now both are franchising.
Tropical Grille’s eight and ninth locations are under construction — including the first one across state lines in Charlotte — and Tipsy Taco has three locations in Greenville County, its first franchise in Clemson, and another location in Greer expected to open this fall.
Montoto says there’s a certain amount of admiration between his group and Tipsy Taco founders Roger Carlton and Trish Balentine.
“We understand what it takes to do something on this level,” he says.
That was evident at the closing on Oct. 4, which happens to be National Taco Day.
“We were all smiles,” Montoto says. “It’s a marriage made in heaven.”
Montoto and King, who has opened 13 restaurants in his career, along with Tropical Grille/Havana Kitchen partner Frank Roman, will be overseeing the transformation from Havana Kitchen to Tipsy Taco. Montoto says the renovations are fairly extensive, including doubling the size of the current small bar in keeping with the Tipsy Taco style of a prominent, central bar.
Some staff from Havana Kitchen will be retained, and Montoto says he’s optimistic that with a well-known brand that has a positive reputation in the hospitality community, staffing up the restaurant won’t be difficult.
“The hospitality community knows where the good jobs are,” he says. “Tipsy Taco has established itself as a brand that you’re going to make money as a server, and it has a family atmosphere.”