BOARDMAN, Ohio – The first Condado Tacos opened in 2014 in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, a trendy strip between downtown and Ohio State University.
A mix of college-town funkiness and urban hipsterism, Condado not only reflected its neighborhood, but overlapped both customer bases and became a hit.
The chain will open its 33rd restaurant on June 23 at 1051 Boardman Canfield Road.
Tucked into a small plaza that also holds two other newer eatery chains – Choolah Indian restaurant and Mission BBQ – the new location is Condado’s first in the Youngstown market and another example of its expansion into suburbia.
“As we evolved, we found that not only do we work in a downtown or university area, but in suburbs where there is a great mix of residential and retail,” said Chris Artinian, president and CEO of Condado, in an interview with The Business Journal. “During [the COVID-19 pandemic], we learned that the suburbs were equally exciting.”
The chain spent “well over $1 million” on the Boardman location, he said. “It was a serious investment to create a fun and cool environment.”
A first look inside a Condado can be surprising to the uninitiated. Every wall is hand-painted with quirky and cartoonish imagery and in the bold colors of Mexican décor. But it’s not a cookie-cutter design. A team of local artists was hired from the Youngstown area to paint their take on Mahoning Valley themes. It’s a practice done at all Condado locations.
The 4,645-square-foot Boardman location was painted by Brian Holderman, Matt Miller, Lizzi Aronhalt, Laura Garvin, Matt Spahr, Shane Pilster, Lizzee Solomon, Goe Gergley, Joseph Kelly and Chris Cliebe. The wall art plays off local sites, including Elm Road Drive-in in Warren and Boardman Park.
The new location will seat 216, including 166 seats in the dining room, 25 in the bar and 25 on the outdoor patio.
Condado fits into the “fast casual” restaurant category but is a bit of a hybrid. Customers are greeted by a host upon entering and shown to a table, where a waiter or waitress then handles their order.
The menu is limited to tacos and their accompaniments, and customers can order from the menu or build their own. There is also a full line of refreshing margaritas, sangria, wine, imported beer and liquors.
The average customer stay at a Condado is 44 minutes, and the typical check is $17 per customer, according to the company.
The restaurant is now in seven states, with multiple locations in the Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Indianapolis and Nashville markets.
All Condados offer online ordering for fast takeout, and also catering service.
Artinian said the Youngstown area could get a second location at some point, but the sole focus now is on the Boardman site.
“We’re trying to be thoughtful, sticking to what we do well,” he said. “If we do well here, we fully expect to look at other opportunities in this market. But the first thing is to earn the love of folks in this community.”
Condado was founded by Chicago native Joe Kahn, who is still involved as chief innovation officer. His goal was “to create a place for great food and flavors and outstanding margaritas, but where folks can come as they are,” Artinian said.
That emphasis on creativity and individuality also extends to the employees.
“How we make our team feel is equally important,” Artinian said. “Whether they have tattoos, piercings or different color hair, we celebrate it all. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable as a guest or an employee, whether in a T-shirt and flipflops or a suit.”
Condado staffers are allowed to be “their best selves,” Artinian said, within limits.
“We have standards for food preparation, execution and friendliness to guests but between those guardrails, we want our team to feel they can be themselves,” he said. “We are facilitating a place where you feel a sense of team.”
The chain is dealing with the worker shortage that is affecting all restaurants. “We’re in the same fight as everyone in finding great talent but we’re having less trouble than most,” Artinian said. “We’ve been able to maintain our staff [and not reduce our] normal hours of operation.”
The success of any chain always comes down to the food, and Artinian has supreme confidence in Condado’s “craveable” tacos.
“When most folks think of tacos, or street tacos, they think of a great protein on a relatively small tortilla that is really traditional,” he said. “What makes ours craveable is we find depth and layers of flavor.”
The lineup of sauces and aiolis includes the signature Dirty Sauce, a spicy blend; the Chipotle Crema, a creamy-spice combination; and the sweet and spicy Habanero Mango.
“It punches up the flavor,” Artinian said. “We have really fresh condiments that we make ourselves. It makes for a flavor combo that says you can’t wait to have it.”
Protein options include beef, chicken, pork, brisket, steak and chorizo. There are also vegetarian options.
The menu includes house specialty tacos and a build-your-own option where the customer picks the shell or tortilla, protein, cheese, condiments and a sauce. Tacos range from $3.85 to $5.50.
The Boardman location will be open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to midnight.
The first 100 guests in line when the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. June 23 will be awarded a “Year of Yum” package: one free taco every week for a year, and a limited-edition T-shirt.