The highly competitive of world of QSR tacos is often referred to as a “category of one,” with Taco Bell owning the enormous lion’s share of sales ($14.653 billion in 2022).
But back in 2002, when QSR Mexican food didn’t have the footprint it does today, Chronic Tacos founding partners Randy Wyner and Dan Biello lived in Orange County, California, where there was an authentic walk-up Mexican taqueria every few blocks, but no taco QSRs. The pair sought to duplicate the unique Southern Californian Mexican food experience, while also infusing the brand with another popular SoCal activity: recreational marijuana. And thus Chronic Tacos was born, which now has almost 100 locations in the United States as well as in Japan and Canada. The stores all feature original artistic designs inspired by traditional "Day of the Dead" art (as in image above).
(For those not in the cannabis world, “chronic” is the term often used when describing very high-quality marijuana. “The Chronic” is also Dr. Dre’s seminal multi-platinum 1992 solo album.)
We spoke with founder Randy Wyner on how the brand stands out among the now-many Mexican QSR chains.
Why get involved in the fast-casual biz?
After years of running a successful clothing manufacture business, I saw there was a need for a good Mexican fast casual-option locally [in Orange County]. Back in 2002 there were only taquerias, no fast casual Mexican food. I grew up going to taquerias, and they were a big influence when building Chronic Tacos.
It appears QSR/fast casual brands are finally embracing one of their biggest demos: stoners (for example, the recent Snoop Dog/Jack in the Box “Munchie Box” collab). Were you just ahead of the curve?
I've always had a passion for cannabis and food, and I simply blended the two and created a one-of-a-kind culture for our brand. Over the years the two communities have grown closer, and it has naturally shown through.
Has your stoner-friendly chain experienced any issues/pushback from communities/customers?
Of course. Everybody has different opinions, but we've chosen to highlight and celebrate those that embrace the brand and have seen continuous growth in doing so.
Any potential collabs with cannabis companies?
Yes, that is always on our radar. We've partnered with cannabis brands in the past such as Weedmaps, Hyperwolf, Butter, Kush Cups, and Swifts, to name a few. And we have another exciting cannabis collab coming out soon that we will be launching on all our social platforms.
[For example, in the 2021 collab with online cannabis marketplace Weedmaps, consumers could sign onto the Weedmaps app to get a free taco.]
It seems everyone has a loyalty program now. How is yours different?
Every order earns points which can lead to free food, swag, etc. Chronic Tacos also rewards our loyalty members by sending offers throughout the year on days like National Taco Day, Guacamole Day and others. Another feature proving popular … is allowing you to order ahead and skip the line. We realize that the app landscape is ever-changing, so we are constantly working on ways to continue improving and innovating within our current app.
How do your stores differ internationally? Is the brand perception different than in the U.S.?
Our International locations have all the same branding and feel, but in Japan we created an expanded menu with food items that tie into the culture, which makes for a very unique Chronic Tacos experience.
What’s next on the
We will be opening at the end of 2023 in the Los Angeles region in Redondo Beach and in Los Angeles International Airport. All locations participate in both local store marketing and digital marketing, doing things from radio to billboards, as well as hosting local events and fundraisers. We also have a strong digital presence across all major social platforms to promote new locations.