Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc. launched its first foray into Texas Friday with a prototype Pollo Tropical unit that includes a new design and menu items created expressly for the Lone Star State.

For its first venture outside its core markets of Florida, Georgia and Tennessee, 105-unit Pollo Tropical will offer beef as a protein option and juice drinks with rum.

“The major changes in this store are about bringing the Caribbean aspect alive,” said Danny Meisenheimer, Pollo Tropical’s chief operating officer, during a preview Thursday.

The new 3,400-square-foot restaurant in Addison, Texas, features palm motifs and tropical blue and green colors, which distinguish the look from the possibly confusing Mexican-tinged décor of restaurants in Florida and other markets, according to Tim Taft, chief executive and president of Pollo Tropical’s Addison-based parent Fiesta Restaurant Group Inc.

Fiesta also owns and franchises the 172-unit Taco Cabana brand, which is expanding into Georgia this year from its core Texas market as Cabana Grill. Fiesta franchises an additional 39 Pollo Tropical units outside the United States.

Fiesta plans this year to add 20 to 22 new Pollo Tropical units, and 10 of those will be in the Texas market, Meisenheimer said. The next opening will be in the Houston area in June, followed by several more in the Dallas-Fort Worth market.

Last year, Fiesta opened 18 company-owned restaurants, including 12 Pollo Tropical units and six Taco Cabana restaurants.

Refrescas, a line of three juice drinks, and Calypso Beef, its first steak item, debuted on the Addison restaurant menu and may move into older locations later.

“We always want to go into new markets and try to adapt to the likings of the market,” said Jacqueline Kleis, Pollo Tropical’s manager of research and development. “Texas is very popular with beef, so we created this new product.”

Kleis, a native of Puerto Rico, said the Calypso Beef features sautéed prime rib with a steak sauce and Calypso red onions marinated in vinegar and scotch bonnet peppers. The Calypso Beef with one side is priced at $7.19, or $7.99 with two sides. Sides include regionally inspired rice and beans, yucca with garlic sauce, and corn soufflé.

The restaurant is also the first to offer rum as an option, which can be added to cola or the three new Refresca juice drinks in Tropical Breeze, Mango-Peach and Superfruit Punch flavors. The beverages are $1.99 without rum and $3.50 with rum.

“The rum drinks add an entirely new dimension to the brand,” said Meisenheimer, adding that given the Caribbean theme, “It’s a natural fit for us.”

Older restaurants offer beers and some offer sangria, but “The rum is more in the Caribbean theme,” said Taft.

For the Dec. 29-ended fourth quarter, Fiesta reported that revenue increased 7.6 percent, to $136.2 million, over the prior-year period. Same-store sales in the quarter rose 7 percent at Pollo Tropical and fell 2.9 percent at Taco Cabana. As much as 40 percent of Pollo Tropical’s sales are in to-go and catering orders, Kleis said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
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