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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, May 18, 2006

Taco Del Mar coming to Hawai'i, Pacific

By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer

Taco Del Mar's standard store decor ocean- and surf-related themes is expected to appeal to Hawai'i's restaurant crowds.

Taco Del Mar photo

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A local businessman is bringing a chain of quick-casual Mexican restaurants to the state, with plans to establish as many as 40 Taco Del Mar stores in Hawai'i and the Pacific.

Ken Nascimento, owner of three Subway shops on O'ahu, recently secured the rights to expand the Seattle-based chain in Hawai'i, Guam and Saipan as a regional franchiser contracting with franchisees to open stores.

Nascimento said Hawai'i's first Taco Del Mar could open in Kunia by October if tentative lease arrangements can be completed.

Other stores that could follow soon after would be in Kapolei and Waipi'o if landlord negotiations are successful.

Nascimento has two franchisees, and is looking for more to fulfill a 10-year goal to open 40 Taco Del Mar restaurants on O'ahu, the Neighbor Islands, Guam and Saipan.

"There has been a lot of interest," he said. "Everybody's really excited about it. They think it's going to do gangbusters here."

"Hawai'i is always starving for great food with great value," said James Butler, a former operations director for Starbucks in Hawai'i who plans to open several of the Taco Del Mar stores, including the one slated for Waipi'o. "Mexican food is an untapped category for Hawai'i."

Hawai'i is one of roughly a dozen states Taco Del Mar plans to enter soon under an aggressive franchising strategy to expand its business, which was established in 1992 and has 198 stores mostly in about a dozen Western states.

Last year, Taco Del Mar said it doubled its number of stores, and expects to double in size again this year.

Known for 24-ounce "mondo burritos" ($5), Alaskan cod fish tacos (two for $4) and a variety of other menu items, Taco Del Mar is among a growing field of popular quick-casual Mexican restaurant chains around the country.

In Hawai'i, Wahoo's Fish Tacos opened its first store earlier this year. Maui Tacos has seven locations around the state. And fast-food staple Taco Bell recently opened its 36th Hawai'i location by adding a store in La'ie last month.

Other well-known Mainland chains Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, a subsidiary of Wendy's International, and Chipotle Mexican Grill, majority owned by McDonald's, do not have Hawai'i locations.

Food industry research and consulting firm Technomic Inc. in Chicago defines quick-casual restaurants as offering self service or limited service, $6 to $9 average checks, attractive decor and innovative foods prepared to order and suited to more sophisticated tastes.

Nascimento said Taco Del Mar in part appealed to him for how its concept relates to Hawai'i. Standard store decor features longboard tabletops, surf murals, thatched umbrellas and mounted sailfish. Nascimento said he also may try to add menu items using kalua pig and local fish.

"Taco Del Mar fits the Islands well because it's laid back, surf-inspired, the food is great-tasting and fast," he said.

A former sales manager for Coca-Cola, Nascimento has been involved with a variety of food franchises over the years, including TCBY. For the past eight years he has been a Subway franchisee with up to five stores. Today, Nascimento operates two Subway stores in 'Ewa Beach and one on Ford Island.

Reach Andrew Gomes at agomes@honoluluadvertiser.com.