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Chef Jose Garces' Buena Onda Launches Franchise Program

Jun 26th, 2022

QSR Magazine | May 26, 2022

James Beard Award winner and Iron Chef Jose Garces teams up with Ballard Brands to expand Buena Onda from Philadelphia to cities across America.

The baja-taqueria will see a major expansion with the launch of its comprehensive national franchise program. With one brick-and-mortar and up to four more on the way, Chef Jose Garces is ready to spread good vibes through this major national expansion. Chef will team up with Ballard Brands, who are franchise veterans that own award-winning brands PJ's Coffee, WOW American Eats and New Orleans Roast. Buena Onda franchise opportunities are now available and designed to deliver a unique experience to diners in the fast casual market with the delicious chef-inspired menu and popular Baja style libations. Interested parties are invited to meet Chef Jose Garces in person and experience his food and vision at monthly franchise seminars that will kick-off in Philadelphia starting on Thursday, June 16th. 

"From Philadelphia to America, I am thrilled to expand my baja-taqueria Buena Onda nationally through an exciting new franchise program," says Chef Jose Garces. "Our team has worked hard at developing a national expansion strategy in partnership with Ballard Brands since the pandemic began. It has been great collaborating with them to bring Buena Onda and other concepts to new places and to reach new audiences. It is exciting to bring my recipes and vision to fans and foodies across the country. We just finished going through the franchising regulation work and we are now a national brand that I am proud to put my name on. I am excited about Buena's possibilities and where this journey will take us next. The pandemic stepped in and took the wind out of our sails, but we reset ourselves, kept moving forward and we hope to announce our first franchise locations by the end of summer - if not sooner."

"In all my years of franchising, I have never been more excited about the launch of a new concept as I am today with Chef Jose Garces and Buena Onda," says Ballard Brands Chief Development Officer David Q. Mesa Jr., CFE. “What’s exciting about this concept is the merging of Chef Jose’s culinary expertise along with our proven franchise systems that allow it to be delivered at a high level in a very simplistic manner that allows creating the opportunity for franchisees, regardless of food experience, to explore their dreams of being in hospitality."

The national launch of Buena Onda is a story that is years - and tens of thousands of tacos - in the making. Buena Onda’s roots date back to 2015, when Garces launched his first-ever fast casual restaurant in Philadelphia, PA. At the time, Buena Onda represented the 19th concept for the growing Garces collection of restaurants. The menu was designed to be Chef's ode to fish tacos and chill vibes, with inspiration taken from Baja peninsula’s culture, seafood shacks, and taquerías.

"I've always loved the ocean, the sea air, the beach lifestyle," adds Garces. "Whether it was spending time on the Pacific Coast of Ecuador, or the Jersey Shore. These elements come together using the Buena Onda taqueria model as the vehicle to convey good vibes."

Potential franchise investors are invited to spread good vibes and share in Chef’s vision. In a world of fast casual options, Buena Onda will offer a unique, casual baja taqueria experience to guests with an appealing menu, great service, and a laid-back, beach-bum decor.  The model is appealing across multiple day parts with something for the entire family.  In Chef's vision, great food and great times leads to good vibes.

For this major expansion, Garces has teamed up with existing partners and the industry experts at Ballard Brands, who bring years of experience in the franchise business through WOW American Eats and PJ's Coffee of New Orleans. For Garces and Ballard Brands, the partnership is a win-win that brings the strengths of both parties to the table.

For the two entities, the partnership dates back to 2018, when Ballard Brands and Garces together created IdEATion Hospitality, where Garces currently serves as Chief Culinary Officer.

"Since Jose's partnership with Ballard Brands began in 2018, we have been working towards a national expansion strategy that capitalizes on both of our strengths," says IdEATion Hospitality COO Scott Campanella. "This strategy is realized as we couple Ballard Brands experience in the QSR market with Jose's culinary expertise and uncompromising dedication to hospitality. We are excited for the next step in this journey as we launch Buena Onda as a new national brand."

In preparation for the national launch, Garces and Ballard Brands, through IdEATtion Hospitality, have laid the groundwork for the expansion by designing a new look and feel for Buena Onda. The new design, updated menu and new operating standards will debut when Buena Onda grand opens Buena Onda in Rittenhouse Square and Buena Onda in Radnor, PA this July. At the same time, Buena Onda will see its flagship location in Fairmount neighborhood get an upgrade to match what will be the look and feel of all future locations.

Longtime fans of Buena Onda can expect a stronger nod to the beachside surf shacks that the brand is inspired by, including dune fencing and a authentic “boardwalk” feel as guests queue to order; a lighter, whitewash wood feeling and nods to an “Endless Summer’ vibe throughout the interiors; the iconic menu board featuring fish tacos,  fresh house made guacamole and Salsa Mexicana, quesadillas, churros, and more will hold a prominent place; as well as the addition of a variety of grab and go items like freshly made salsa, salads, and aqua frescas with seasonal flavors.

For current, pending and future locations, Garces and Ballard Brands have tapped Styer Associates for interior design and architectural needs. Styer Associates will offer a one-stop solution that offers both design and construction services, allowing for a seamless project management, and so that Garces can open new locations as efficiently as possible, minimizing setbacks and delays. Styer Associates has also been tapped to come up with the new design for other Garces projects, such as the new location footprints for Tinto Pintxo.

As part of operational changes, all new locations moving forward will feature alcoholic beverages but without the formal bar inside the dining space. The beverage programs will place an emphasis on cans and bottles, including canned Buena Onda branded Margaritas in a variety of flavors like classic, strawberry, prickly pear, etc. Look for other surprises in the beverage program line-up coming when Buena Onda debuts the new brick-and-mortar locations this summer.

In an effort to improve both guest and delivery driver experiences with the brand, each location will now incorporate design elements that provide functional storage. Incorporating design functional elements that address the nature of to go/delivery is an important factor as the concept expands and pivots. This will include a set area for pick-ups for delivery platforms and for guests for take-out.

With the approval of the franchise launch, Chef and Ballard Brands invite investors and future franchise owners to meet Chef Jose Garces in person. Spread good vibes and enjoy Buena Onda's award-winning food with Chef, and learn more about the franchise opportunities, during in-person franchise seminars every third Thursday of the month this summer. from 6:00pm to 7:30pm, at The Olde Bar (125 Walnut Street), in Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia. Dates for Philadelphia seminars will be Thursday, June 16th, Thursday, July 21, Thursday, August 18th and Thursday, September 15th. After September, look for Buena Onda franchises to launch in cities across the country, with details to be announced.

"We invite you to partner with Iron Chef and James Beard Award Winning Chef Jose Garces on his newest venture in bringing Buena Onda to the nation," says Mesa. "Buena Onda is designed to deliver a unique experience to diners in the fast casual market with a delicious chef-inspired menu and popular Baja style libations. Our innovative franchise model allows you to bring this successful concept to your favorite locations. This is a very unique opportunity in that you can open a franchise location and partner with a James Beard Award winner and Iron Chef. Let's make history together."

As Garces and Ballard prepare for their first in-person franchise seminar, they have received a letter of intent from their first investor in the tri-state mid-Atlantic region.

For foodies craving Chef's famous baja-inspired tacos now, Buena Onda is open in Philadelphia at 1901 Callowhill Street, with 1,850 square feet of space with seating inside for 36 people, and outdoor seasonal seating. Garces fans in Fairmount can currently enjoy take-out, delivery and dine-in, plus specials that include Mondays (Two Pork Al Pastor tacos for $5 and add a tecate for $1), Tuesdays (Half price margaritas, dine-in) and Thursdays ($2 Pollo Tacos). Happy hour currently runs Monday to Friday, from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, with specials on Pork Al Pastor and Pollo Tacos, Chips and Salsa Mexicana, Draft Beers and RedWhite Sangria. Hours for Fairmount currently are seven days a week, 11:00am to 9:00pm.

Buena Onda at 114 S. 20th Street (Philadelphia, PA) and 200 Radnor Chester Road (Radnor, PA) are set to open in early July. Stay tuned for ribbon cutting information coming soon.