Fast casual with a family focus: Q & A with Frank Lopez of Felipe’s Taqueria

Felipe’s Taqueria, a family owned and operated fast casual Mexican restaurant concept, was launched in New Orleans more than ten years ago. Recently, the restaurant’s sixth location was opened in Gainesville at the corner of W. University and NW 12th St. The Business Report sat down with Frank Lopez, General Manager of the Gainesville location of Felipe’s, to discuss the restaurant’s family-oriented culture and the decision to locate their newest location in Gainesville.

 

TBR: For those who have not visited your establishment and may not be familiar with it, can you please provide a brief introduction and an overview of your restaurant concept?

Lopez: At its core, the Felipe’s Taqueria concept is a family owned and family operated fast casual Mexican restaurant and craft cocktail bar. At Felipe’s, our philosophy is that ingredients should always be fresh and the recipes need to be authentic. Our open kitchens and made-in-Mexico décor mirror this philosophy for fresh ingredients and authentic recipes.

All of our food is prepared from scratch every day with whole raw produce and fresh proteins. Our salsas are made without any canned tomatoes or vinegars, and all bar mixers are made in-house from real ingredients and fresh squeezed citrus. We care about making sure our recipes and flavor profiles are as truly authentic to Mexican cuisine as you may find on the street corner taquerias in Guadalajara or Oaxaca.

At the heart of Felipe’s Taqueria’s recipes and culture is the Herrera family with deep roots in Oaxaca Mexico. With the Herreras, the Felipe’s Family has focused on building a culture of people who are passionate about quality food, authentic Mexican, and outstanding service. Our management teams are often bilingual and have origins from all over the United States and Latin America. 

 

TBR: How did you decide to locate your new store in Gainesville?

Lopez: We chose Gainesville for a few reasons, but primarily because we felt we had an opportunity to translate the community connection we have fostered in New Orleans with the city of Gainesville, both with the local full-time residents as well as the University of Florida community. We saw a real opportunity to be a part of the transformation which is taking place in Midtown by making a quality investment in the area.  

 

TBR: What core principles do you adhere to when it comes to running your restaurants?

Lopez: In a nutshell, we stick to an unwavering commitment to what made us successful in the first restaurant we built in 2006. We rely on expert hiring and training systems to employ real cooks who take pride in the food they prepare. Commissary food production will never be part of our model and we will never take the cook out of the Felipe’s kitchen. If through expansion we cannot deliver quality and consistency in this model, we will halt expansion to keep our existing restaurants true because we know we cannot sacrifice our convictions for the sake of expansion. We strive to be the best in this industry, not the biggest. 

 

TBR: What approach do you take to leadership and management at Felipe’s?

Lopez: Again, we are a family owned and operated business, and we consider ourselves a far departure from a typical “corporate entity”. This is represented through our fairly flat management structure — making basic distinctions amongst departments and tasks, but using a collective mindset for implementing bigger decisions as we chart our future. We emphasize a “Family Values” driven culture, where we strive to empathize with our employees both personally and professionally in a fair and respectful work environment that pays fair wages, fosters a work/life balance, and provides supportive longer-term benefits.

Furthermore, we implore our in-restaurant leadership to take a sense of pride and ownership over their restaurant through accountability of goals on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis for the teams they lead. With the teams in the restaurants, we recognize opportunity for advancement through cross-training and growth of an individual’s knowledge base of what is occurring in the restaurant.

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