Tijuana Flats

Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex
Industry Restaurants
Founded 1995 in Winter Park, Florida
Founder Brian Wheeler
Headquarters Altamonte Springs, Florida, U.S.
Number of locations
Area served
South Carolina
North Carolina
Key people
Larry Ryback, CEO
Number of employees
3,000 (2016)
Website www.tijuanaflats.com

Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex is an American restaurant chain serving Tex-Mex cuisine. It has 120 locations throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana.[1] Tijuana Flats is known for its fresh food, hot sauce bars, art murals, excellent guest service and off-beat culture. Customers order at the front counter and are served after sitting. The restaurants are fast-casual hybrids, being best known for outstanding service, quality and cleanliness.

Tijuana Flats uses zero trans-fatty acids (TFA) cooking oils, 100 percent hormone free, white meat chicken, fresh produce and all of its menu items have been lard free. Flour or whole-wheat tortilla options are available for select items. This restaurant features a “Power Lite” selection, offering low-fat cheese and fat-free sour cream in any menu item.

The restaurant was founded in 1995 by University of Central Florida graduate Brian Wheeler with $20,000 in loans. The company had 18 locations before expanding out-of-state in 2004. Tijuana Flats started out as a franchise, but switched to a corporate-owned model for new stores in 2007.


Tijuana Flats was started in Winter Park, Florida.[2] It was modeled after Burrito Brothers, a Mexican restaurant in Gainesville, Florida[3] and funded with $20,000[4] in borrowed money from Wheeler's family.[3][5] Students from Wheeler's former college made up some of the restaurant's early customers. Wheeler tried to create his own signature hot-sauce unsuccessfully before hiring Edgewater to formulate the restaurant's sauce brand, "Smack My Ass & Call Me Sally."[3] When Wheeler received an order to have 25 cases of the sauce shipped to California, he set up a separate company called Tijuana Flats Hot Foods Inc. as a hot sauce business.[6]

After the third location was opened, a semi-retired restaurant executive, Camp Fitch, was invited to Tijuana Flats by his golf partner.[3][7] In 1999, Fitch invested in the company and was appointed its CEO to expand the chain nationally.[7] When the fourth location opened, the founder's dad, Chester Wheeler, was reimbursed for his $20,000 loan used to start the company and joined as the CFO.[3]

Tijuana Flats had six locations by 2001,[4] which grew to 18 locations in 2004[8] and 65 by 2009.[9] In 2005, Tijuana Flats built its first training center for branch managers in Winter Park.[10] In 2007, Tijuana Flats shifted from a franchise model to corporate-owned stores.[11] The chain re-purchased some of its under-performing franchise locations.[12] That same year Tijuana Flats created its non-profit arm, the Just in Queso Foundation. The Foundation donated $46,000 to remodel the home of a handicapped war vet[13] and started donating profits from the Just in Queso hot sauce to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.[14]

In 2011, Tijuana Flats updated its menu with fish tacos, "Norrito" bowls and Bangin Chicken entrees, salads and tostadas.[15] In 2012 Tijuana Flats donated the proceeds from their seasonal hot sauces to Kids Beating Cancer[16] and gave out free entrees to teachers after a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 27.[17][18]


A hot sauce bar from Tijuana Flats

Tijuana Flats is a "fast casual" hybrid,[19] where customers order at the counter and seat themselves, but are served at their table afterwards.[20] It serves burritos, chimichangas, tacos, nachos, flautas and other Mexican food.[21] There are health options for low-fat cheese, fat-free sour cream and whole-wheat tortillas.[22][23] It also has vegetarian and "wet" options, a children's menu and take-out.[7]

Tijuana Flats restaurant locations have murals and the company uses unusual slogans like "embrace the strange and unexplained" and "hot is the new cool."[24][25] The restaurants are known for their sauce bars, artwork and a hot sauce brand called "Smack My Ass & Call Me Sally."[4] 98 percent of revenues from the Just in Queso hot sauce are donated to charitable causes like the American Red Cross, Soldiers Angels and Frontline Head Start.[7][26]


  1. http://www.tijuanaflats.com
  2. Gregory, Evan (December 13, 2012). "New UCF Tijuana Flats Location". Beyond UCF, Business, Food, News. University of Central Florida. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Joseph, Scott (July 20, 2008). "Tijuana Flats -- a straight-up success story". Orlando Sentinel. pp. F. 10.
  4. 1 2 3 Hayes, J. (2001). Menu specials, simplified operations heat up Tijuana Flats brand. Nation's Restaurant News, 35(26), 26.
  5. Hayes, J. (2003). Big-burrito chain Tijuana Flats spices up plans for expansion. Nation's Restaurant News, 37(50), 28.
  6. "Tijuana Flats sets sights on more stores". Orlando Business Journal. May 24, 2004. Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Bowers, Irene (November 22, 2007). "Tijuana Flats heats up scene with second eatery opening". The Virginian-Pilot. p. 32.
  8. Brett, Jennifer (October 7, 2004). "'Fast-casual' food comes to Georgia via Tijuana Flats". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. pp. 12JJ.
  9. "Tijuana Flats Expands". Tampa Tribune (Florida). January 23, 2009. p. 5.
  10. Uribarri, Adrian (August 17, 2005). "A hot new recipe for training". pp. C1.
  11. "Tijuana Flats shelves franchising as way to build Tex-Mex chain". The Orlando Sentinel. May 31, 2007.
  12. Clarke, Sara (May 31, 2007). "Tijuana Flats shelves franchising as way to build Tex-Mex chain LESS-SPICY EXPANSION". Orlando Sentinel. pp. C1.
  13. Palm, Anika (March 6, 2010). "Veteran gets home makeover". Orlando Sentinel.
  14. Clark, Anthony (September 13, 2007). "Tijuana Flats to Donate Hot Sauce Proceeds". Gainesville. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  15. Snel, Alan (August 1, 2011). "Tijuana Flats' new entrees aim for the light side". Nation's Restaurant News. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  16. Mesulam, Sheila (December 12, 2012). "FYI-Food: Learn how to cook a Christmas goose". Naples News.
  17. Pedicini, Sandra (December 19, 2012). "Tijuana Flats honors teachers with free meals". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  18. Lonon, Sherri (December 27, 2012). "Teachers Eat Free at Tijuana Flats Thursday". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  19. Thurston, Susan (August 28, 2012). "Fast-casual restaurants gobbling up Tampa Bay market". Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  20. "Tijuana Flats Sizzles in Crowded Mexican Category". Orlando Sentinel. June 5, 2006.
  21. Uribarri, Adrian (September 13, 2007). "Irreverent Tex-Mex Eatery Due". The Orlando Sentinel.
  22. Shrieves, Linda (April 25, 2002). "Tijuana Flats and the Ketchup Crisis". pp. H3.
  23. Carter, Alice (January 24, 2008). "Tijuana Flats Takes Carefree Approach Seriously". Retrieved January 23, 2013.
  24. Sickler, Shannon (March 29, 2006). "The burrito evolves". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  25. Littman, Margaret (January 1, 2008). "A MySpace odyssey: Tijuana Flats tries to connect with its customers by spotlighting unknown, cutting-edge musicians on MySpace". Chain Leader.
  26. Just in Queso, Tijuana Flats, retrieved January 6, 2013
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