Chicago-based chef Rick Bayless is known for many things, including running successful Mexican restaurants such as Frontera Grill, winning multiple James Beard Midwest Chef of the Year awards, hosting a PBS series on Mexican cuisine, and writing. a bestselling cookbook like Mexican food.
In 2021, he introduced a quick and relaxed new concept Tortazo, with one each in Chicago and New York. The one in New York is located a stone’s throw from Madison Square Park (where Shake Shack made its debut). They are based on tortas or open sandwiches.
Tortazo has a strong chance of growing because Jollibee Food Corp, a fast food restaurant company based in the Philippines, acquired a 47% stake in Tortas Frontera with its investment of $ 12.4 million. Bayless and its shareholders retain a majority stake with its 53% stake.
In a press release, Bayless said: “We are joining forces with Jollibee as they have the necessary infrastructure to develop Tortas Frontera”.
Bayless describes tortas as “warmed sandwiches, with very bold flavors, grilled on a griddle. We then take the toppings next to a tasting board and add salsa.
When asked why he opened a casual style rather than a full service restaurant, Bayless replied, “I’m very interested in letting people know what our flavors are, without jumping in with both feet and having a bigger meal. ”
“Everything we do is based on the flavors you can find in Mexico. We’re trying to get everyone to jump on the tortas train. In Mexico, you will find as many torta shops as there are taco shops, ”he says.
Like most fast-paced, casual restaurants, its menu is streamlined. It showcases five torta sandwiches on telera rolls, including crispy milanesa chicken, chipotle roast chicken, and pork shoulders. The sandwiches start at $ 14, so with a drink, cost around $ 20 per person, a bit more than those at Chipotle.
Comparing Tortazo to Chipotle, Bayless says it offers “bolder flavors. We are not a place for beans and rice. He adds that Tortazo is more expensive than Chipotle and targets an older population.
The menu also includes several salads, chicken bowls, a quesadilla, soups, fries and guacamole, as well as a few desserts.
But Bayless adds that the current menu is just a starting point and will soon add six more items, including three new tortas, another salad, taquitos and tortilla soup.
This reporter dined at the New York City Tortazo on a warm fall night. Its president, Sam Lipp, who was there that evening, recommended the milanesa chicken, which he said was his number one seller. It was tasty and plentiful.
The New York City Tortazo contains a counter with four chairs, an indoor dining area, and an outdoor dining area across the street and in a hut. The restaurant also had seven or eight employees, both in the kitchen and in the food service, although there was no waiter service so it was well staffed.
Bayless explains that he did not place any commercial newspaper ads but worked with some development agencies to staff the restaurant. The staff was doubled, initially, so that employees could be trained in the Bayless style of operation.
During the day, he expects to attract large numbers of workers from the many publishing, advertising and e-commerce businesses in the Madison Square Park and Flatiron area, and then to attract a crowd of nearby residents. in the evening.
Bayless hopes to expand its outlets in the two cities, New York and Chicago. “We are actively looking for spaces, mainly in Manhattan, although we have searched in Brooklyn,” he explains. In Chicago, they explored the Loop area to add another location. But his conclusion was that he was sticking to those two cities before exploring options elsewhere.
On Yelp, New York customers were quite welcoming to Tortazo. One of them said, “Three stars for food and give stars for service. Someone greeted us at the door and explained how and where to order. A nice addition to the lunch options at Flatiron after some great restaurants have closed during the pandemic. “
Another Yelp customer liked his Cubano sandwich, fries, and salsa. He described the spice level as “high but tasty. Lots of places are bland and so spicy you can’t taste anything else.
And will he ever consider opening a full-service restaurant in New York City? “Yes,” he replies, “but we prefer to build things one step at a time. “
Bayless describes the three keys to its future success as follows: 1) Attracting people all day, not just at lunchtime, 2) Encouraging more people to take the torta train, 3) It’s all about consistency. If it stays consistent with its food quality, it will thrive.