How This Executive Chef-Turned-Multi-Unit Franchisee Found A Home With California Tortilla
Sean Gray hated the idea of working at a chain restaurant - until California Tortilla’s fresh take on traditional Mexican fare changed his mind.
February 04, 2020 // Franchising.com // As the multi-unit franchise owner of four California Tortilla restaurants in the greater Philadelphia area, Sean Gray doesn’t have much free time - when he’s not racing motorcycles or reading up to four Sci-Fi novels a week, that is.
Before joining the brand in 2007, Gray’s career took several interesting turns. He was first introduced to the restaurant industry while in college at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where he was studying graphic design and illustration. Upon graduation, Gray took a job as a graphic designer, but quickly realized his passions were elsewhere.
“The cubicle life just wasn’t for me,” Gray chuckled. His next move brought him back to the restaurant life, where he worked as a chef and then an executive chef for a dozen different restaurants over the next several years.
“Then, I started doing restaurant consulting, which consisted of developing an operational strategy for all aspects of a given restaurant’s business, from construction buildout to menu engineering and everything in between,” Gray continued.
During this time, Gray became as well-versed in the business as one could be. He’d soon be using this skillset in a completely different arena of the industry, though, unbeknownst to him at the time.
“Not long after the consulting company I was working for disbanded, an acquaintance of mine came across California Tortilla. They told me to check it out because it was something different,” Gray recounted. Considering he’d been working 12-plus hour days and staying up till 3 a.m. for the last several years, the thought of getting out of the full-service restaurant grind was appealing to him - but under no circumstances was he going to go into business with one of those big-name fast food concepts.
However, after some convincing, Gray finally agreed to look into the fast casual Mexican restaurant franchise, albeit skeptically.
“I couldn’t bring myself to sign with any of those brands because as an executive chef, I’d never be okay with serving junk,” Gray said. “But when I looked into Cal Tort, the fresh ingredients and the recipes blew me away. As a culinary chef, I really felt that I could stand behind the brand and feel proud of what we were serving in every option on the menu.”
That was more than 12 years ago. Now, when he’s not enjoying Blackened Chicken Caesar burritos galore (his favorite menu item), Gray is busy running his four Californa Tortilla locations across the greater Philadelphia area, in Royersford, Concordville, Exton, and Phoenixville, Pennsylvania respectively.
Gray chose to grow his footprint with the brand and become a multi-unit owner for the same reasons he was drawn to Cal Tort initially: A high-quality offering he was proud to serve and sound operations.
“I really believe in the brand, food and the Cal Tort model itself,” Gray said. “Thanks to my consulting background, I really value strong training and I know the importance of following procedures and systems - don’t fix something that’s not broke, they say. The more locations we’ve opened, the more brand awareness we’ve been able to generate in the Pennsylvania market - it’s been a really successful endeavor.”
As for any advice he has for prospective Cal Tort franchisees, Gray was very to-the-point: “Put your past experience to the side, come in with a blank slate and learn the Cal Tort way,” he said. “Humble yourself, and absorb the system and culture. if you do, you’ll find success.”
About California Tortilla
Since 1995, California Tortilla has brought a fresh perspective to “California-style” Mexican flavors. The fast-casual Mexican restaurant franchise's signature, made-to-order food is all made in-house from fresh, never-frozen ingredients, ensuring the highest-quality menu offering at all 45 of its locations. For more information, please visit https://franchise.californiatortilla.com/.
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SOURCE California Tortilla
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