After completing a systemwide remodeling program last year, Taco Cabana is turning its attention to its menu, chief operating officer Todd Coerver said this week.

Coerver told Nation’s Restaurant News Wednesday that the 165-unit division of Addison, Texas-based Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc. is focusing on bringing back menu news after five years of working on facilities and operations. Fiesta also owns the 150-unit Pollo Tropical chain.

Taco Cabana is largely company owned, but it has one franchisee with four restaurants in the Albuquerque, N.M., market. The remainder of the brand’s restaurants are in Texas, with the exception of one unit in Oklahoma City.

Todd Coerver, COO Taco CabanaFiesta was spun off as a standalone company by Carrols Restaurant Group Inc. in 2012.

Coerver discussed some of Taco Cabana’s plans with Nation’s Restaurant News.

What led to the systemwide remodeling program beginning in 2010?

In 2010, Taco Cabana was struggling. It had old, tired restaurants, an unclear value proposition, and pretty marginal and inconsistent operations and an inability to take price increases without seeing a drop-off in transactions. The struggle was how to continue adding investment value while we rebuilt the consumer value for the long term.

What effect did the 2012 spin-off have on Taco Cabana?

That was the critical moment. The two years prior to that we’d picked the low-hanging fruit from a marketing standpoint, positioning the brand to focus on the quality of food while we were rebuilding. The Fiesta spinoff allowed us to rebuild the brand from the inside out.  

What were the first steps?

We implemented a true back-to-basics approach in 2013. It allowed us to focus on operational excellence and consistency. We narrowed the menu. We took a break for a couple of years and did not add one new item to the menu. We put a halt on our LTO development. It was high risk, but we knew it was the right thing to do because we didn’t want to distract from operations.

How has the remodeling program affected the Taco Cabana units?

We’ve created a more efficient design and kitchen facility along the way, and we’ve elevated our service offering by putting in a table-delivery model. The net result is we’ve grown in the year from 2014 to 2015 our average unit volumes from $1.8 million to $1.9 million. We’ve had a steady increase without much menu news to drive people in. When I came on board five years ago, average unit volume was $1.57 million.

Taco Cabana interior

What are you looking at for the menu?

We’ve brought in a new executive chef, Andy Dismore, and he’s been working on a lot of new products for us. We’re re-lighting the menu development torch for 2016. We’ve got a new Cabana Bowl out now. We have a bunch of things loaded up for new LTOs this year.

Chicken Bacon Ranch BowlYou added the Cabana Bowl this week. What do you think it adds to the menu?

It’s called the Chicken Bacon Ranch Bowl. It’s a good demonstration of the new flavors that Andy is bringing to the table. It’s packed with flavor: black beans, rice, lettuce, bacon, a chipotle-ranch sauce and a roasted corn-poblano salsa, and it’s topped with red corn tortilla strips. It’s got a flavor punch in it. Next month we have new ancho-shrimp street tacos coming out, and that will feature a jalapeno slaw. It’s Mexican-inspired but it takes flavor profiles in different directions than in the past.