Taco John’s franchisee review: Tam Kennedy of Minneapolis-St. Paul

Posted May 3rd, 2017

She worked her way up from administrative assistant to multi-unit owner, overseeing eight Taco John’s locations

Tam Kennedy
Tam Kennedy

Tam Kennedy is an American success story.

She worked her way up from an administrative assistant position to become a multi-unit franchise owner with Taco John’s. She worked hard along the way and researched every position she could think of within the organization as she plotted out her strategy to someday become a franchise owner. Today, her organization has nine locations, with eight in a seven-county area surrounding the Twin Cities and one in central Iowa. Kennedy is currently planning to add more units, and she is hopeful that others will follow her path to success. “So many restaurant owners have worked their way up to ownership through having a position on a schedule,” Kennedy says. “It’s one of the greatest American success stories there is.” Read more about her story in this Taco John’s franchisee review:

Please describe your career/experience before joining the brand. What led you to look for a new opportunity?

I actually bought the company, which was already in the business of Taco John’s restaurants, in 1999, but I worked here for years prior to that. I got my start working as a secretary for the franchisee. Then I worked my way up doing administrative work, and I began working in operations on my own time to learn that part of the business.

Was that an intentional strategy?

It was a strategy, absolutely. When he retired, I bought the business. So many people start out as a busboy or a line cook or a cashier and move up to become multi-unit owners, but I would also advocate the opportunity to start in an administrative role.

Tell me about your company today.

My company is Twin City Taco John’s. At the time I purchased the company we had a few more units – 14 – and now we have nine. And that also was part of the strategy. As consumers’ shopping and spending habits shifted away from traditional and regional malls, we looked at leases in food courts and began to systematically close those. People more and more prefer the drive-thru as a quick and convenient way to get meals for themselves and their families.

What was the learning curve like?

There wasn’t one. It was an easy transition, because I had an awful lot of years invested in the business as an employee first. I knew as much as I possibly could about all of the aspects of the business. There wasn’t any part of learning this business that I hadn’t been involved in. I made sure I was exposed to everything from buying insurance to understanding lease negotiations and conflict resolution. I spent quite a bit of time on the food management side, ordering and inventory management and control, and understanding vendor relationships. I made sure I understood how important vendor relationships were in the franchising world.

How do you stay in touch with that side of things?

That’s probably where I spend more time now than ever. I am a member of the IFA, which is the International Franchising Association. I am a board member, and I sit on the Franchise Relations Committee. I was just named to the IFA Board of Directors beginning in 2018. That is one way to keep up with the many parts of what franchising is. I spend part of each September in D.C. working with our legislators to talk about the issues that impact small business owners in Minnesota and Iowa.

What’s your five-year goal for your company?

We’re actively looking to expand in our market, and we’ve just finished a substantial scrape and rebuild of the first Taco John’s in the Twin Cities. We’re proud of the result and optimistic about how well it’s already performing. Based on our strategy, we’d like to grow with Taco John’s.

How do you manage day-to-day operations?

Most of our locations are within 45 minutes of each other. When we look at purchasing or building something new, we try to stay within 100 miles of our central location so we can take advantage of economic efficiencies, like sharing equipment and staff.

We run lean. My husband spends his days out in the stores working with each of the teams. We have an office manager and a full-time properties manager who works on grounds facilities and supplier-partner relationships.

Then we have me. I wear different hats – marketing, sales, finance. Definitely development; that comes under my job duties. We have a leadership team of a couple of folks here and a couple of our top managers. We meet every other week to work on issues and opportunities.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a multi-unit owner?

What I like best is having the type of business that allows people to learn. To learn about business and not even realize that’s what is happening. We have built a business here that can teach you the three things you need to know to run any business in the world: how to manage people, how to manage inventory and how to manage money. If you can manage all three of those, you can run any business in the world.

Every night, every store, we track down every tortilla. We work hard to have zeros. My company’s values really are about giving people an opportunity to earn a living, to contribute to their families and be proud of how they are earning and learning at the same time.

Why do I love what I do? I get to work in a unique, wonderful community. We work side-by-side feeding our neighbors, getting to know their family and they get to know our Taco John’s family. We are very fortunate to be able to contribute to our community. We’re part of that fabric that it takes to have the country we have. We open our stores every day when people are busy and hungry, and we’re there for them. It’s an honor to do what we do.

A hand holding a hard shell taco.

What’s special about the Taco John’s franchise?

I am proud of its history, its quality product. It’s not just the taco, it’s the people behind the taco. The pure taco love we have. Making sure our tacos are made fresh every day the way we want them. Our team learns to make actual recipes. There are measuring cups and spoons in our restaurants. We honor the recipes of our founders. You know what? At 10:30 today I had a bean burrito. I will never tire of it. It is good, craveable food.

What kind of support do you get from the corporate office?

I have found over all the years of our franchise relationship that they’re willing to listen, no matter what I want to talk about. Sometimes I want to talk about celebrations of things we’re doing well and sometimes I want to challenge them, but they will always listen as a group of leaders. That’s part of what the culture is. They realize without the franchisees, there is no Taco John’s brand. They respect that. They’re responsive where they can be and they’re willing to work with you when you have ideas, concerns or opinions.

Is there anything else someone should know before they invest in a Taco John’s?

I think they should try every other taco place they can, then try ours. Try our entire menu. They should understand why the essence of Taco John’s works. You can’t sell it if you don’t believe it. Restaurants are generally a tough business. You have to have a passion for food, a passion for service and a real commitment if you want to open up a Taco John’s. All three of those are who we are, and it’s important for someone to really get that.

Learn more about Taco John’s

We hope this Taco John’s franchisee review has shed some light on what’s so special about our franchise. If you’d like to know more about Taco John’s, which serves fast-casual quality food with the convenience and value of a drive-thru, we’d love to hear from you. Please fill out the form on this page to download our free franchise report, or check out our research pages for more information.