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Executive Chat, Paul Baldasaro, Taco Mac COO

Executive Chat with Rebecca Patt

Featuring Paul Baldasaro, Taco Mac COO

Paul Baldasaro is the COO and an investor in Taco Mac, the beer-and-wings, sports-bar focused casual-dining concept founded in Atlanta in 1979. The chain currently has 28 stores in three states, primarily in Georgia. Paul is a restaurant industry veteran who previously held leadership roles at Landry’s, Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, Mellow Mushroom, and The Hickory Tavern.

What is unique about Taco Mac?

I think the two biggest things we are proud of are our culinary program and our Brewniversity program. Our culinary program is fresh, never-frozen wing product, locally sourced here in Georgia. We have a great partnership with our vendors, and we're never taking a backseat with quality. We've focused intently on that piece of it. Wings are our number one seller, and we have a wide variety of menu offerings that I think make us more than just a sports bar.

Brewniversity, our beverage program, is unique to the industry. We've got 60 to 100 taps of beer in any of our restaurants, depending on the size and the generation of when the store was developed, and Brewniversity is our loyalty program. It provides benefits to our guests, anything from getting a t-shirt when you approach a certain level, to a Yeti cooler, to last year when we sent a dozen people to Germany for Oktoberfest.We've brought them out to Colorado for the beer festival out there, and we brought them to Boston to tour the Sam Adams brewery. So, we do a lot of fun things to really play off the beer part of our business while we're still following the trends of the market, which is towards cocktails.

It's called Brewniversity?

Yes, we call it the Brewniversity because it has different stages: you may be a freshman, a sophomore, junior, or you could have a doctorate or a masters. And the great thing is, our bartenders help you learn about different beers, so it becomes a fun, interactive type of experience. It's amazing the collaboration and the community that surrounds it. You can see in any of our bars at any point in time groups of guests going through the process, enjoying their journey to their next level and their next reward.

What kind of locations does Taco Mac typically go into?

For the most part, we have been going into freestanding over the last few years. We've done everything from second generation to freestanding new build outs.

What's the vision for the growth plan of Taco Mac?

I think there's two variables to our growth and our growth strategy. One is we like to stay in the Georgia market. We believe there's plenty of white space available. We've headed into secondary markets and had sustainable success.

I think the other part is to stay true to the real estate plan. We have a very specific set of parameters that we use to determine real estate. We stay true to those, and that has been successful. The last thing and probably the most important thing is having the right team to make sure that we are ready to meet the needs of the growth of the company. We're testing right now a local owner-operator program. We have two stores right now, in Macon, Georgia, and in Pelham, Alabama, where we have two local owner-operators who are more than general managers. They own a part of the business. We think that that's a future strategy for attracting and keeping great talent.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the operating environment right now?

The biggest challenge in our business is our greatest asset, our people, and the challenge of continuing to create an environment that fosters a fun and motivating place where our people are inspired to deliver memorable moments to our guests. We want to create a place that rewards a "guest first" mentality and never loses sight of the opportunity to be special for someone else. 

Okay, last question. What is an interesting, little-known, fascinating fact about you that's not restaurant-related?

I love to travel. I mean, that's not unique, but I love to travel. My bucket list trip is probably to Bora Bora. I'm one of those vacationers that I love to be outside. I love the heat.

You could never get me to live back in New England ever again. I come from a small town, Walpole, NH. It has 3,000 people, no lights, one stop sign, and 21 miles to fast food, still to this day.

I'm fortunate with my yard. I have a pool at the house with about 100 banana trees around it. It’s my little haven. My wife's a master gardener. When people come over and they step into my backyard, it’s like stepping into Key West.

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