Tijuana Flats

Last updated
Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex
Type Private
Industry Restaurants
Founded1995;28 years ago (1995) in Winter Park, Florida
FounderBrian Wheeler
Headquarters Maitland, Florida, U.S.
Number of locations
Area served
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana
Key people
Joseph D. Christina CEO
Louie Psallidas CFO
Number of employees
3,000 (2016)
Website tijuanaflats.com
Footnotes /references

Tijuana Flats Tex-Mex is a privately-held American restaurant chain serving Tex-Mex cuisine. It has over 135 locations (117 company owned and 18 franchised) throughout Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and Indiana. [1] Tijuana Flats restaurants are fast-casual hybrids with fresh food, hot sauce bars, art murals and off-beat culture. Customers order at the front counter and are served after taking a seat.


The restaurant was founded in Winter Park, Florida, in 1995 by University of Central Florida graduate Brian Wheeler with US$20,000 in loans. The company had 18 locations before expanding out-of-state in 2004.


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.

After the third location was opened, a semi-retired restaurant executive, Camp Fitch, was invited to Tijuana Flats by his golf partner. [3] [6] In 1999, Fitch invested in the company and was appointed its CEO to expand the company. [6] 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 [7] and 65 by 2009. [8] In 2005, Tijuana Flats built its training center for restaurant managers in Winter Park. Today, the restaurant support and training center is located at the Tijuana Flats HQ in Maitland, Florida, [9] In 2007, Tijuana Flats shifted from a franchise model to corporate-owned stores. [10] 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 [11] and started donating profits from the Just in Queso hot sauce to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. [12]

In late 2015 the company was sold to AUA Private Equity firm. Brian Wright was named CEO of the company in 2019. In 2021 the company announced that it would be bringing back its franchising program, which was previously suspended in 2007. In October 2022, Joseph D. Christina was named as the company's new CEO.

Restaurant design

Tijuana Flats is widely known for the unique appearance of their restaurants. The main feature of each location is its hand-painted wall mural. The first mural was painted in 1995 by artist Christopher Galipeau at the original location in Winter Park, Florida. Christopher painted eight murals for the company before he died of cancer in 2008. His artwork features a series of characters, most notably a gigantic Green "God." This character was featured in many of his murals. After his death, multiple artists tried to replicate his style of work at newer Tijuana Flats locations.

The company is also known for having a "wall of fame" in each location. Up until 2016, every restaurant featured a wall covered with photos and autographs of celebrities who have visited the establishment. All restaurants built after 2016 no longer feature the iconic wall.

Design changes

The chain has gone through quite a few different design changes over the years. The original legacy design lasted from 1995 until 2005. These locations looked as if they were all small, local, taco shops. Design elements included celebrity photos scattered across the walls, shelves filled with hot sauces, colorful string lights, and 3D "Hot Bar" signs. In 2008 the company decided it wanted to go for a more "mature" look. Newer restaurants featured wall graffiti, purple and red paint, and darker lights. The celebrity wall of fame was no longer scattered, but rather the photos were neatly lined across the walls in rows. The most notable change came during the "Amped Up" look in 2016. The celebrity "wall of fame" was removed, and the murals were painted on either wood or concrete walls. The restaurants took on a more industrial look. The location in Cary, North Carolina, was updated in 2016 to reflect the "amped up" look.

In 2020 the company announced the "High-Tech Prototype" design. The first location to open with it was in Noblesville, Indiana. The new design features bright lighting, custom vinyl-printed tables, digital menu boards, decal/graphic covered walls, and a local inspired mural. This design took a drastic turn away from the previous industrial look, as all of the restaurants are covered with bright blue and yellow paint. Gone are the sci-fi wall murals, the new murals depict comical lizards in a local setting. Examples include lizards paddling down the Wekiva River at the Hunt Club location, a lizard fishing at the Ocoee location, and lizards hanging out in a park at the Winter Park location. The murals were moved from the dining room side of the restaurant to the queue side of the restaurant.

YearsRestaurant DesignNotable FeaturesCurrent Status
1995–2008Legacy Store DesignSci-Fi wall mural, hot sauce shelves, yellow walls,

scattered celebrity autographs.

Very few locations remain with this design.

Locations include Baymeadows, Ortega Village, Metrowest.

2008–2015"Mature" Store DesignDarker content murals, straight wall of celebrity autographs,

red and purple walls.

The most common store design, majority

of the restaurants feature this.

2015–2020"Amped Up" Store DesignRemoved celebrity autographs, industrial look, sci-fi murals return.Roughly 10 stores feature this design, including Bloomingdale, Nocatee, and Millennia.
2020–present"High-Tech Prototype" Store DesignDigital menu boards, local "lizard" murals, blue and yellow walls.All new stores feature this design. All previous stores are being remodeled to match this design.


In 2021 the company began remodeling its locations to match the new "High-Tech Prototype" store design. The first location to be remodeled was Tijuana Flats #4, located on Aloma Ave in Winter Park, Florida. The location previously featured the legacy look and later the "mature" store design. The remodel included a new mural, featuring lizards playing in a park. The mural sparked outcry by Tijuana Flats fans on Facebook, as it looked too tame and childish. The company modified the mural to better fit the Tijuana Flats theme. This marked the first location to feature three different murals over the years. In 2022 Tijuana Flats #2 in Hunt Club, Florida, was remodeled. The remodel involved removing the 2nd ever Tijuana Flats wall mural, which was painted by artist Christopher Galipeau in the mid 90's. The mural was not only the second painting created for the company, but it was also the first full-wall mural.

A hot sauce bar from Tijuana Flats Tijuana Flats Sauce Bar.jpg
A hot sauce bar from Tijuana Flats

Tijuana Flats’ entrées include burritos, burrito bowls, chimichangas, dos tacos, flautas, fresh salads, nachos, quesadillas, and wings. Guests have their choice of tortilla with flour and wheat as well as hard corn with tacos. All items except for the flat outrageous items come with their choice of toppings of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sour cream, and jalapeños as well as fillings including classic shredded and blackened chicken, beef, steak, shrimp, refried and black beans. There are also the options to make the entrées Powerlite with low-fat cheese and sour cream; smothered with queso or chipotle sauce; megajuana with double meat and cheese; and a meal with rice, beans, and drink. [13]

Guests may also order a starter of chips with fresh or spicy salsa, queso, guacamole, or a trio of all three; a side of fresh or spicy salsa, pico de gallo, queso, guac, rice, or beans; and a dessert of churro bites or cookie dough flautas. Burrito, taco, and wing meal kits are also available. [13]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tex-Mex</span> Cuisine in the Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico

Tex-Mex cuisine is an American cuisine that derives from the culinary creations of the Tejano people of Texas. It has spread from border states such as Texas and others in the Southwestern United States to the rest of the country. It is a subtype of Southwestern cuisine found in the American Southwest.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taco Bell</span> American fast-food chain

Taco Bell IP Holder, LLC, d/b/a Taco Bell, is an American multinational chain of fast food restaurants founded in 1962 by Glen Bell (1923–2010) in Downey, California. Taco Bell is a subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc. The restaurants serve a variety of Mexican-inspired foods, including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, novelty and speciality items, and a variety of "value menu" items. As of 2018, Taco Bell serves over two billion customers each year, at 7,072 restaurants, more than 93 percent of which are owned and operated by independent franchisees and licensees.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Enchilada</span> Corn tortilla rolled around a filling and covered with a sauce

An enchilada is a Mexican dish consisting of a corn tortilla rolled around a filling and covered with a savory sauce. Enchiladas can be filled with various ingredients, including meats, cheese, beans, potatoes, vegetables, or combinations. Enchilada sauces include chili-based sauces, such as salsa roja, various moles, tomatillo-based sauces, such as salsa verde, or cheese-based sauces, such as chile con queso.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nachos</span> Tortilla chip dish

Nachos is a Mexican culinary dish consisting of tortilla chips or totopos covered with cheese or cheese sauce, as well as a variety of other toppings and garnishes, often including meats, vegetables, and condiments such as salsa, guacamole, or sour cream. At its most basic form, nachos may consist of merely chips covered with cheese, and served as an appetizer or snack, while other versions are substantial enough as a main course. The dish was created by, and named after, Ignacio Anaya, who created it in 1941 for customers at the Victory Club restaurant in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taco Cabana</span> American fast casual restaurant chain

Taco Cabana is an American fast casual restaurant chain that serves Tex-Mex cuisine. It is a wholly-owned subsidiary of YTC Enterprises LLC, and headquartered in San Antonio, Texas. As of January 2022, Taco Cabana has 148 locations throughout Texas and New Mexico. Taco Cabana is recognized for its "pink" color scheme and semi-enclosed patio dining areas. Many menu items are handmade daily on-site, in open-display cooking areas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cuisine of the Southwestern United States</span> Food eaten in the southwestern United States

The cuisine of the Southwestern United States is food styled after the rustic cooking of the Southwestern United States. It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era; there is, however, a great diversity in this kind of cuisine throughout the Southwestern states.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Moe's Southwest Grill</span> Fast casual chain of Mexican restaurants

Moe's Southwest Grill, referred to informally as Moe's, is an American fast casual restaurant franchise chain that was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, in December 2000 by Raving Brands. The name "Moe's" originated as an acronym for "Musicians, Outlaws and Entertainers", and this theme led to the music-related artwork found in the original design.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Mexican cuisine</span> Cuisine originating from New Mexico

New Mexican cuisine is the cuisine of the Southwestern US state of New Mexico. The region is primarily known for its fusion of Pueblo Native American cuisine with Hispano Spanish and Mexican cuisine originating in Nuevo México.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rubio's Coastal Grill</span> Mexican-American fast casual restaurant chain

Rubio's Coastal Grill, formerly known as Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill and Rubio's Baja Grill, is an American fast casual "Fresh Mex" or "New Mex" restaurant chain specializing in Mexican food, with an emphasis on fish tacos. As of 2013, Rubio's operates, licenses, or franchises more than 200 restaurants in Arizona, California, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah. It is headquartered in Carlsbad, California.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taquito</span> Mexican food dish

A taquito, taco dorado, rolled taco, or flauta is a Mexican food dish that typically consists of a small rolled-up tortilla that contains filling, including beef, cheese or chicken. The filled tortilla is then shallow-fried or deep-fried. The dish is often topped with condiments such as sour cream and guacamole. Corn tortillas are generally used to make taquitos. The dish is more commonly known as flautas when they are larger than their taquito counterparts, and can be made with either flour or corn tortillas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Enchirito</span> Taco Bell menu item

Enchirito is the trademarked name of Taco Bell's menu item of the Tex-Mex food similar to an enchilada. It is composed of a flour tortilla filled with seasoned ground beef taco meat, beans, diced onions, cheddar cheese, and "red sauce".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Burrito</span> Tex-Mex dish consisting of a wheat flour tortilla wrapped to enclose the filling

A burrito is a dish in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine that took form in Ciudad Juárez, consisting of a flour tortilla wrapped into a sealed cylindrical shape around various ingredients. The tortilla is sometimes lightly grilled or steamed to soften it, make it more pliable, and allow it to adhere to itself. Burritos are often eaten by hand, as their tight wrapping keeps the ingredients together. Burritos can also be served "wet", i.e., covered in a savory and spicy sauce, when they would be eaten with a fork and knife.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Texan cuisine</span> Food and drinks from Texas

Texan cuisine is the food associated with the Southern U.S. state of Texas, including its native Southwestern cuisine influenced Tex-Mex foods. Texas is a large state, and its cuisine has been influenced by a wide range of cultures, including Tejano/Mexican, Native American, Creole/Cajun, African-American, German, Czech, Southern and other European American groups.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Esparza's</span> Defunct Tex-Mex restaurant in Portland, Oregon, U.S.

Esparza's Tex Mex Cafe, or simply Esparza's, was a Tex-Mex restaurant in Portland, Oregon, in the United States. Opened by Martha and Joe Esparza in 1990, the restaurant operated for more than 24 years before closing in January 2014. Its unusual menu included buffalo tostadas, ground ostrich and nopalitos, several varieties of tongue, beef brisket, and more traditional options such as enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos and tamales. Esparza's was one of Portland's most popular restaurants during the 1990s and was named "Restaurant of the Year" by The Oregonian in 1992.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill</span>

Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill is an Australian chain of fast-food restaurants. Salsa's Fresh Mex Grill serve a variety of Tex-Mex foods including tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, other specialty items, and a variety of "value menu" items.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mexican-American cuisine</span>

Mexican-American cuisine is the cuisine of Mexican Americans and their descendants, who have modified Mexican cuisine under the influence of American culture and immigration patterns of Mexicans to the United States.

La Bamba West, Inc., doing business as La Bamba Mexican Restaurant and La Bamba Burritos, is a fast casual restaurant chain that was started in 1987 and is based in Champaign, Illinois. Their locations remain open late at night, serving Tex-Mex cuisine under the slogan "burritos as big as your head". The restaurants are located predominantly in college communities within the American Midwest.

Salsarita's Fresh Mexican Grill is a chain of fast casual Tex Mex restaurants in the United States serving Mexican-style cuisine. Restaurant service consists of: dine-in, take-out, online ordering, 3rd Party Delivery with some locations offering Drive Thru options. The company is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, and operates over 80 company-owned and franchised restaurants throughout United States.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taco Bill</span> Australian restaurant chain

Taco Bill is an Australian restaurant chain serving traditional Mexican cuisine. It is the longest founded Mexican franchise in Australia.


  1. 1 2 Ruggless, Ron (May 29, 2019). "Tijuana Flats names 3 new executives". Nations Restaurant News . Retrieved June 1, 2019.
  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 Joseph, Scott (July 20, 2008). "Tijuana Flats – a straight-up success story". Orlando Sentinel. pp. F. 10.
  4. 1 2 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. 1 2 Bowers, Irene (November 22, 2007). "Tijuana Flats heats up scene with second eatery opening". The Virginian-Pilot. p. 32.
  7. Brett, Jennifer (October 7, 2004). "'Fast-casual' food comes to Georgia via Tijuana Flats". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. pp. 12JJ.
  8. "Tijuana Flats Expands". Tampa Tribune (Florida). January 23, 2009. p. 5.
  9. Uribarri, Adrian (August 17, 2005). "A hot new recipe for training". pp. C1.
  10. "Tijuana Flats shelves franchising as way to build Tex-Mex chain". The Orlando Sentinel. May 31, 2007.
  11. Palm, Anika (March 6, 2010). "Veteran gets home makeover". Orlando Sentinel.
  12. Clark, Anthony (September 13, 2007). "Tijuana Flats to Donate Hot Sauce Proceeds". Gainesville. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  13. 1 2 "Tex-Mex Food How You Like It – Tijuana Flats". Tijuana Flats.

28°38′02″N81°23′33″W / 28.6338°N 81.3925°W / 28.6338; -81.3925