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Nothing is flat about local entrepreneur's expansion

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  • | 6:20 a.m. November 1, 2012
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Steve Martin's Gulf Coast taco empire continues to grow.

Martin opened his eighth Tijuana Flats restaurant on the Gulf Coast, on Cortez Road in west Bradenton, late last year. Store No. 9 opened this summer, in the Feather Sound area of St. Petersburg, and No. 10, in east Manatee County, opens Oct. 29.

“It thrills me to death that we keep opening restaurants and creating jobs,” Martin tells Coffee Talk. “We are at the right price point. People can afford to go out and do tacos.”

A longtime restaurant industry executive, Martin opened his first Tijuana Flats, known for its quirky collection of hot sauces, in 2002. He poured his 401(k) and other savings, $300,000 in total, into the launch. Stores, after an opening period, tend to generate about $1 million a year in annual sales. (See Business Review, Aug. 13, 2009.)

Martin's not done expanding yet, either. He recently signed a letter of intent for another store, in Palm Harbor, and he's in talks with Maitland-based Tijuana Flats to open stores in the Fort Myers area. Martin says a key factor in the growth, past price point, is the chain got into the local Tex-Mex quick-casual segment earlier than most competitors, like Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill.

“We've done a good job covering the market,” Martin says. “People now look for us to open” in their neighborhood.

Not that Martin shies away from a food fight. The Manatee County location, for example, is across the street from a Chipotle and a shopping center down from a Moe's Southwest Grill. Martin, however, says he follows the demographic trends — not the competitors. “If it's an A location, we are going in,” says Martin. “I don't care if everyone is there or no one is there. That's how confident we are that we can deliver.”


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