Ted’s Café Escondido is expanding its restaurants with a new fast-casual offering, Ted’s Tacos and Cantina.
The restaurant is set to open in late July or early August at 600 NW 23rd St. in Oklahoma City.
Ted's Chief Operating Officer David Foxx said the new building will have 3,995 square feet, compared to a regular restaurant size of 5,500 to 8,000 square feet, and will include a full-service bar and counter service.
It will include Ted's first pet-friendly patio, complete with a fire pit, and can offer takeaway food orders, which has increased recently with the onset of COVID-19, he said. There also will be a self service kiosk for the first time in Ted's history.
Perhaps the biggest change, Foxx said, is the menu. Focusing primarily on tacos, 90% of the menu will be brand new, including a barria meat, or wet, taco, which Foxx described as “extremely unique to the Oklahoma market.” Every taco order will come with Ted's chips, salsa and cheese sauce.
Other items include interesting taco combinations, loaded waffle fries, build your own burritos, vegetarian offerings, sheet pan nachos and a kid's menu, as well as popular existing taco offerings from Ted's existing menu, he said.
“We've created such a flavorful menu. I can't wait to share it with Oklahoma City,” Foxx said.
The menu creation process began two years ago with Ted's research and development department, Foxx said. Based on their individual travels across the country, the team explored menu options and put Ted's spin on them.
Foxx said he went to Los Angeles to get inspiration about barria meat tacos from a popular food truck there, and he was impressed.
“I've been in the restaurant business 33 years and I've never seen a taco like it before,” he said.
Foxx said he learned everything that he could about it, and the team read up on the origins of the taco and brainstormed ways they could put Ted's spin on it.
He said the team explored what Ted's could do on the fast-casual side that would drive conversation and interest. They also worked with Chef Ryan Parker with Sysco, their food distributor, and his team in Norman to get expert advice on how to implement their new menu.
Foxx said the team tested dozens of protein and options, and the menu went through several phases. Some ideas that weren't initially adopted might be included in the future.
Foxx said Ted's signed the lease on the Oklahoma City property in late February, and the company was days away from a building permit last week. Demolition is done, and construction is set to begin over the next two to three weeks.
Internally, he said talk about the new concept started casually four years ago, but more serious efforts started two years ago.
Currently, Ted's has 10 restaurants in Oklahoma, including one in Norman.
So far, Ted’s Tacos and Cantina Oklahoma City location is the only planned for now, but Foxx said that he sees the cantina as a growth vessel for the company as the company approaches its 30th anniversary next year.
“We don't know what the restaurant industry is going to look like, what that's environment will be. We had this deal in place before before COVID-19 broke. We know we're building it. After that, we're kind of in a wait-and-hold pattern,” he said.
If the new concept does expand, Foxx said Campus Corner in Norman would be prime real estate for a location.
Foxx said COVID-19 has impacted Ted's. After the initial shutdown, some service staff had to be furloughed, but once positions returned, employees who could return were brought back as quickly as possible. However, no locations were shut down.
So far, Ted's has seen a decline of 20 to 30 percent over last year's numbers, Foxx said, varying by location.
Until “stay-at-home” orders were lifted, the restaurant was curbside and drive-thru only, which created some new jobs, he said. Now, Ted's restaurants are back at half dine-in capacity, and increased sanitation practices are in place, including employees wearing masks and increased cleaning.
Foxx said residents can be placed on a Yelp wait list or call for a reservation and receive a text when their table is ready so they can avoid the waiting room. They also can wait in their vehicles to reduce the number of people inside at one time. Norman's location is currently reservation only.
He said the restaurants were incredibly busy over Cinco de Mayo, but 70% of business is still curbside.
Norman's restaurant team transitioned easily to curbside and delivery only during quarantine orders, Foxx said, because a platform was already in place there for third-party delivery and online ordering was in place.
Because of COVID-19, Foxx said curbside service has become a permanent part of the business.
Foxx said he hopes the new concept will allow Ted's to appeal to a younger demographic and help them create a vessel that will allow Ted's to stay open another 30 to 40 years.
For more information, visit tedscafe.com.
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