Tijuana Flats: A College Student’s Success Story

If you haven’t been to Tijuana Flats, I would recommend you do. They are a fantastic restaurant that serve lots of yummy Hispanic and Latino foods, such as chimichangas, tacos, enchiladas, and the like! The restaurant spans several states, so chances are you may have at least heard of it – and the reason I’m writing a post about it is simply because it’s a story of success. They proudly sport their origin story at the restaurants and online, which you can view here, but I’m going to quote so as to save you time. This is what is printed on their menus. This is their origin story.

Success doesn't have to happen here. (photo by Nazareth College)

Success doesn’t have to happen here. (photo by Nazareth College)

So get ready for some tear-jerkers. Because the message is sweet and simple.

“…Back in 1995, this college kid, Brian Wheeler, walked into a bar. Actually, a bunch of bars. And restaurants, too. At first, it was just harmless fun. But over time, the good times got the best of him and just going out no longer cut it. So Brian decided to open his own restaurant despite having never even worked in one before (brilliant, right?). Only problem was, Brian was broke. Luckily, his parents weren’t. And after much begging and pleading, his dad loaned him $20,000 &  Brian opened the first Tijuana Flats in Winter Park, Florida.

While most college grads (yes, Brian graduated from UCF, or so he says) would be stoked just to own their own restaurant, deep down Brian had a burning desire to do more. Turns out, the burning was just hot sauce he’d eaten, but Brian saw it as a sign and created his own line of hot sauces shortly thereafter—the “Smack My Ass & Call Me Sally” brand, which includes some of the hottest sauces in the world.

In 1999, Brian’s success caught the eye of former restaurant industry hotshot Camp Fitch, who left retirement to become partner & chairman of Tijunana Flats. And Camp wasn’t the only one. Remember the dad who reluctantly loaned his son $20K? Yup, Chester Wheeler left a 30-year career at a Fortune 500 company to become CFO of Tijuana Flats. Since then, Tijuana Flats has grown to over 75 restaurants in several very lucky states.

Since day one, Tijuana Flats has always given back to the community. But in January 2007, they created the Just in Queso Foundation to give back even more. Much more. Over $670,000 to date to help those in need.

So to all the college kids or parents of college kids out there, remember, success isn’t something you can gain overnight. It’s something you can gain over many nights at college bars.

The last paragraph is what is inspiring to me. It shows that even a quirky story of what most people would believe to be mistakes of youth can turn into something great. Obviously, the business is a great franchise if it spans several states. So kudos to you, Brian! It is inspirational to hear that something so big came from someone just like us.

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