What is in this article?:
- El Fenix prepares for growth with brand refresh
- Protecting a legacy
Firebird Restaurant Group CEO, Mike Karns, discusses the 95-year-old chain’s future.
Mike Karns, CEO of Firebird Restaurant Group
The El Fenix restaurant chain, which celebrated its 95th anniversary in September, is proving that even an older concept has sprightly steps on the path to growth.
The popular regional brand was founded in Dallas by Michael “Mike” Martinez in 1918 and acquired by Dallas-based Firebird Restaurant Group LLC in 2008, when it had 15 units.
Firebird has added locations and expanded into other related concepts. It currently has 21 El Fenix restaurants in North Texas and a unit at the Winstar Casino in Oklahoma, as well as two Mexican-inspired Meso Maya units and a La Ventana taqueria.
El Fenix has been known for years for its Tex-Mex menu and Enchilada Wednesdays, which bring lines of guests for its $5.99 special of two cheese enchiladas, rice and beans.
Firebird Restaurant Group chief executive Mike Karns has been leading a refresh of the El Fenix brand and menus. Karns also owns Sunrise Mexican Foods, which produces Mexican food products such as chips, tortillas, flautas and tamales for retail and foodservice operations.
Karns discussed the historic El Fenix brand and its steady expansion with Nation’s Restaurant News.
What first attracted Firebird to El Fenix?
We saw it as a way to acquire real estate. We prefer to buy. And we like to think each El Fenix location is unique. We don’t have a set prototype. We can get to revenue faster when we pick a great location that’s a little less expensive.
What was the first thing you tackled in the 15 El Fenix units?
Many of them were 1960s-70s vintage. Not much had been done in 10 or 20 years in some of the stores. So the first thing we did was go around to all 15 locations and picked out the key 'El Fenix' items and what gave it a distinct personality. We boiled that down into a simple, elegant hacienda feel.
How has that been worked into the current models?
It feels less like being in a restaurant than a semi-residential feel. We repackaged those visual clues. We did one store in Irving [Texas] first to see what it would look like, and then we did six expansion stores. We tweaked and tweaked and then figured out how we would go back and remodel.
What are some of the elements?
White stucco iron and tiles and pottery. One of the distinct items is the old Martinez family photos, since 1918, that we were able to repackage and put into the new prototype.