The Galardi Group, parent to the Wienerschnitzel hot dog chain, has launched a new fast-casual Mexican concept with a chef-driven, made-from-scratch menu.

Two Madres Mexican Kitchen opened July 15 in Mission Viejo, Calif., near the company’s headquarters in Irvine, Calif. The menu was designed by Brent Omeste, a chef who comes from the fine-dining world. His resume includes stints at the high-end Southern California restaurants Charlie Palmer, Cucina Enoteca and Marché Moderne.

The goal was to develop a healthful Mexican concept that uses fine-dining techniques in the kitchen but still offers affordable, customizable fare that can be served quickly, said Omeste, the concept’s corporate chef.

Burritos, tacos, bowls and salad are on the menu, but Two Madres goes a step further, offering items that won’t be found at most existing fast-casual Mexican chains. For example, Two Madres’ menu includes rotisserie chicken, roasted in house, along with a platform of Mexican-style tortas, which are sandwiches made with telera rolls.

Protein options include grilled ono fish, and the made-in-house salsas include offerings like cilantro aioli; grilled pineapple salsa; or tamarind-garlic sauce.

Bob Mathews, Galardi Group’s vice president of development, said the concept was in the works before the company’s founder and chair John Galardi died earlier this year.

Galardi wanted to find a concept that the company could “get excited about” and grow along with the 330-unit quick-service Wienerschnitzel chain and Tastee-Freez ice cream, which is dual branded with Wienerschnitzel and has 50 freestanding locations, as well as about 13 Original Hamburger Stand restaurants.

Two Madres is the company’s first foray into the fast-casual segment. Though the fast-casual Mexican space is crowded and dominated by the rapidly growing Chipotle Mexican Grill, Mathews said the company saw an opportunity to create a brand with a from-scratch menu that didn’t rely on commissaries.

“We wanted to do something with a better flavor that was healthier,” he said. “We want people to walk out of the restaurant feeling lighter.”

Two Madres also targets an older audience, “with more discerning tastes,” than that of Chipotle and other existing brands, he said. There are also plenty of options for vegetarians and those who avoid gluten.

Guests at Two Madres can build their own meal by selecting a burrito, taco, bowl, salad or torta and filling it with various proteins, sauces and salsas, beans, cheese and produce. Ingredients are never frozen and free of hormones, steroids and antibiotics. Organic produce is used where possible, and dishes include no trans fats or lard.

The restaurant, which is about 2,250 square feet, also offers a selection of signature dishes, or “directed builds,” such as a torta with rotisserie chicken, smashed pinto beans, grilled onion, pickled jalapeno, guacamole, romaine lettuce and a drizzle of cilantro aioli.

“I love sandwiches, and I wanted to bring a different dynamic,” said Omeste. “We’re working with great telera rolls from a local baker. They use a potato base, but with no lard, which is typical in a classic telera.”

The concept’s name, “Two Madres,” is meant to reflect the Old World-meets-New World culinary emphasis and Southern California’s bilingual culture.

There were concerns that the name could be twisted into “tu madre,” which is a commonly used interjection in Spanish that can be roughly translated as “screw you,” noted Mathews. “But we’re not worried.”

Menu prices range from about $6 to $8.50 for a quarter rotisserie chicken, Mathews said. The average check is about $10, and future locations may offer beer and wine, but the original site may be too close to a school to get a permit.

Mathews said Galardi Group is planning to open another couple locations next year and, down the road, franchising may be an option.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
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