Taco John’s has launched a line of customizable burritos and bowls with an eye on fast-casual competitors, the quick-service chain said Monday.

For the first time, Taco John’s guests can build their own Santa Fe Burrito or Bowl with new proteins and three new salsa options, among other toppings. The format is similar to Chipotle Mexican Grill and other fast-casual Mexican chains that let guests customize their meals.

"This is definitely a nod to fast casual, and it’s brand new for us," said Renée Middleton, vice president of marketing for Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Taco John’s International Inc.

Taco John’s offers the Santa Fe line in restaurants and at its drive thru.

"Our research shows customers, especially Millennials, are looking for control over the food they order. That’s exactly what they’ll find with Sante Fe Burritos and Bowls," Jeff Linville, who was hired as Taco John’s International’s chief executive in April, said in a statement. "At the same time, we’ve made it very simple."


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New protein options in the Santa Fe platform include slow-cooked shredded beef and chile-lime-seasoned grilled chicken. The new salsas, which are made in-house, are a mild roasted corn, a medium smoky chipotle and a spicier chile de arbol. Other toppings include cilantro-lime rice, seasoned black beans, cheese and sour cream.

The 409-unit chain has long used its freshly made menu items, which are more typical among fast-casual players, to differentiate itself from quick-service competitor Taco Bell, said Middleton.

Guests can choose a regular size, similar to the chain’s standard burrito, or a large, which Middleton said is more like the overstuffed items found at fast-casual chains.

The Santa Fe items are also priced higher than Taco John’s other menu items. A regular Santa Fe burrito is priced at a recommended $4.49, and $5.99 for a large, compared with a range of $3.99 to $4.29 for its standard burritos.

Middleton said the Santa Fe options have proven very popular so far. In company-owned test units, the items represent about 8 percent of the sales mix. “When we soft rolled, it was kicking butt,” she said.

When Linville joined the company, he pledged to develop a strategic plan for unit growth, increasing same-store sales and enhancing margins. The new Santa Fe items offer a step in that direction, he said.

“We think Santa Fe Burritos and Bowls are a powerful addition to our menu as we work to grow the Taco John’s brand,” said Linville. “It offers something completely different to guests who’ve dined with us for years. And it will inspire others to try Taco John’s for the first time.”

The company has launched a digital word-of-mouth campaign offering a free Santa Fe burrito or bowl to anyone who emails $1-off coupons to three or more friends.

Those who don’t know how to customize their meal can watch Taco John’s quirky interactive video, posted on the chain’s website, in which guests make their selections with amusing consequences. The wrong selection between a burrito, bowl or Viking ship, for example, could result in a pillaging of lunch.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout