Sol Tacos & Tequila

Mexican Restaurant in Forsyth, GA
Role
Co-Founder
Lead Designer
Date
June 2020 - Now
Visit Website

Overview

Sol Tacos & Tequila is a Mexican restaurant that I co-founded with my family in September of 2020.

As the lead designer, I was responsible for leading a customer-focused approach to developing our brand identity, designing a profitable menu, website, & online ordering.

My parents, sister, and I in front of the Sol sign, Sept 2020
My parents, sister, and I in front of the Sol sign, Sept 2020

How do we, in 90 days, successfully open a Mexican restaurant in a small market with 4 direct competitors?

Goals

Our objectives before opening the restaurant:

Create a food brand that positively differentiates itself from other local Mexican restaurants.

Create a customer-focused organization that produces stellar service.

Create a memorable and "sticky" visual brand & name.

Reach $800,000 in first-year sales.

Impact

As of Jan 2022

$1.1 Million

First Year Sales
(+37.5% than projected)

60,000+

Customers Served

17,000+

Unique Website Users

4.6/5

160+ Google Reviews
4 tacos with cilantro and onionSanta fe dip in an iron bowl2 Al Pastor TacosDelicious burrito bowlMargarita ice cream

Roles & Responsibilities

Founding Team

Lucio C. - Founder, Operator

  • Recruiting
  • Staff Training
  • Inventory Management
  • Payroll
  • Licensing
  • Customer Service

Irma C. - Founder, Operator

  • Recipes
  • Operations Manager
  • Customer Service

My Role

Co-Founder, Lead Designer

  • Research
  • Menu Design
  • Website Design & Development
  • Business Development
  • Point of Sale (POS) System
  • Customer Service

Step 1:

Research

The first challenge was to hold back from jumping right into a logo and menu. My priority from the start was to advocate for a customer-centered approach to designing a brand and business.

To succeed in the small town market we were entering we had to search for opportunities the competitors didn’t see or couldn’t provide.

Although our short timeline and limited budget did not allow for deep user research, I conducted a workshop with Lucio & Irma to brainstorm pain points from the point of view of customers and users (staff).

A qualitative research workshop helped us uncover 3 key insights about the industry:

  • Menus with too many items

Make it difficult for customers to choose what to order, causes longer training for new employees, and large overhead costs.

  • Hard to pronounce restaurant names

Having a long brand name that is hard to spell or pronounce makes it harder for people to tell their friends or find on google.

  • People love tacos and tequila

Almost every order we saw while working in restaurants had some form of taco, shots of Don Julio, or margaritas.

Research Activities Completed:

Step 2:

Design & Development

Branding

  • “Los or El” were over-used in Mexican Restaurant Name
  • Using our last name would hold back buy-in from future partners and employees. I wanted our customers and products to be the center of attention, not the founders.

Our next challenge was to design a memorable brand name and visual identity.

After many brainstorming sessions, we finally found a name that we thought fit best: Sol Tacos & Tequila. Easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and quickly describes what we sell.

With the help of Amy Borgstrom, a very talented graphic designer, we explored different directions until we found a logo and branding we loved.


Photo of name suggestions for restaurant in 2020
Brainstorming possible restaurant names and values, July 2020
Diagram of Sol Tacos name
Brand guidelines for Sol Tacos

Menu Design

We started by folding a piece of printer paper and wireframing the layout of the menu with just a pen/marker to arrange the different sections.

After agreeing on the layout, sections, and items we were going to feature, we moved to the design of the physical menu. Initially, we hired a graphic designer on Fiverr but after being displeased with the results, I decided to start drafting on Figma. The web prototyping tool worked surprisingly well for menu design.

The design of our menus was a challenge that had the largest effect on the whole of the business. Since opening 15 months ago, the menu has undergone 12+ drafts and 5 versions of the prints. Listening to the feedback from users, iterating the design, and observing how people used the prototypes was crucial to creating a better customer experience.

Website Design

Like any business, having a well-functioning & well-designed website is critical to the customer journey for a restaurant.

Through speaking to other restaurant owners, we also discovered how big a pain point staff turnover was in the foodservice industry. Sol’s website had to find a cost-effective way to generate employment leads for open positions.

With that invaluable information, I could quickly create sitemaps, wireframes, and prototypes to ideate what our website would look like and function.

Development then began on my preferred web builder, Webflow, and within 1 week we had our website ready for our grand opening.

Design Activities Completed:

Step 3:

Testing, Grand Opening, & Feedback

After 15+ years of dreaming and 12+ intense weeks of preparation, we were approaching our launch day.

I strongly pushed to begin by doing a “beta-test” and opening for carry-out only for our first week. This allowed us to not only get organized in the kitchen and with staff, but also have a smaller sample size of people who could listen to and correct the flaws of our product & service.

On September 15th, 2020, Sol Tacos & Tequila opened to the community of Forsyth, GA for full-service for the first time. The first couple of weeks were incredibly chaotic having to deal with a wide range of issues, but our communication & attention to customers afforded us their patience and business.

My job from the start was to lead our team to a customer-first point of view first and foremost. Making decisions in a business is difficult with all the different directions one gets pulled in, but setting the customer as our “True North” makes it just a little bit easier.

Customers using new menus in 2022
Customers using menus, Feb 2022

Results

As of Jan 2022

$1.1 Million

First Year Sales
(+20% than projected)

60,000+

Customers Served

17,000+

Unique Website Users

4.6/5

160+ Google Reviews
4 tacos with cilantro and onionSanta fe dip in an iron bowl2 Al Pastor TacosDelicious burrito bowlMargarita ice cream

Lessons

The months leading up to and the months following  opening day brought me some of the hardest challenges I’ve experienced in my career so far. But through the difficulties, I’ve become a stronger entrepreneur, designer, and son because of it.

What I Learned

  • How to manage a team and delegate
  • The importance of pre-development research and planning
  • How to manage emotions & time while under a lot of pressure
  • How to prioritize in tight time & budget constraints
  • How to take criticism and improve designs

What I Would Do Different

  • More customer interviews and research
  • Not avoid difficult conversations with the staff I was responsible for
  • Have more humility and actively question what I do vs. don’t know

by Brandon Castillo

Feb 19, 2022

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