Thursday, October 6, 2016

TPG Growth is destroying my passion for Taco Bueno

It's been about ten months since TPG Growth (a division of TPG) acquired Taco Bueno from Palladium Equity Partners, and it's been the worst ten months since CKE Restaurants owed the Texas-based TexMex Quick Service Restaurant.  As an avid lover of Bueno, and a former employee, I know the standards with which the food was made, and I know how the food is being prepared now.  And it's not just me, it's everyone I know who is making the same comments.

Just prior to the sale to TPG Growth, Taco Bueno was voted the Best Mexican Restaurant in America.  And that brings the biggest rub.  You see, TPG Growth owns or has stake in a few other QSRs (Quick Service Restaurants); Burger King and Papa John's Pizza.  These two fast food chains are not known for their quality of food, but for their speed in getting "food" delivered to you.

If TPG Growth leads Taco Bueno down similar paths of Burger King and Papa John's, the implication is that Taco Bueno might grow very quickly, but all of the made-fresh-in-store food will be replaced with pre-cooked, microwaved junk.

Original Red is available on Taco Bueno's Fresh Salsa Bar.
You can already see it starting with their Original Red Salsa.  This salsa has been made daily in store since the beginning of time.  (well, maybe since 1964 when Taco Bueno started.)  The salsa is pretty basic and should be consistent.  Within weeks of TPG Growth taking over, the Original Red began to change.  After several months it has seemed to settle in to a standard flavor, but it isn't the Original Red I grew up with.  It's very spicy now, which is turning a lot of people off.

And it's not just the Salsa.  The chips, which I think are still fried in stores, have changed.  They have become thicker and less crispy.  I think Taco Bueno has changed cheese vendors four or five times since the acquisition.  I'm sure this is just the beginning, and I expect that there are other things that have already changed that I just don't know about.

The previous leadership of Taco Bueno really cared about what the customers wanted.  In fact, there was at least once when I was invited to the annual manager's meeting to talk along side a few other Buenoheads to the managers.  The then CEO, Ed Lambert, really wanted to invest in his customers and his product.  (I have a lot of respect for Ed, as he took a lot of time to listen and lead his teams.  His employees also had a good deal of respect for him.)

It seems now that TPG Growth just wants to turn the once great Taco Bueno into a mass production facility.  As Bueno changes, I find myself eating at Qdoba and Taco Bell a lot more.  TPG Growth, get back to the basics.  Revive the passion of your Buenoheads.

But, hey, I'm just some guy who likes to look at airplanes, so what do I know?

It is worth noting that TPG Growth does have some stake in Azul Airlines as well.