MODESTO – Taking pride in offering customers a bit of the unconventional, San Francisco-based Tavistock Restaurants last month opened two Freebirds World Burrito eateries in Modesto, one in Tracy, and another in Turlock.
With a trademarked motto of “It’s Not Normal,” the burrito chain hopes to bring a fresh new approach to Mexican cuisine in the area.
“We are a fast-casual burrito joint with a rock ’n’ roll attitude,” said Sara Barker, spokeswoman for Freebirds World Burrito. “Depending on the locations, we attract young, single folks, families, workers on lunch break, college students, and anyone who craves awesome, fresh food.”
Menu choices include burritos, burrito bowls, salads, and nachos, all providing customers with a wide-range of options in customizing their meal.
Guests entering the restaurant are matched with a team member known as a “roller.” The roller assists each customer in selecting a tortilla size and in choosing from 40 freshly prepared ingredients. According to Barker, there are more than 35 trillion possible combinations a customer can create. The resulting burrito is then hand-rolled according to the guest’s choices.
Attracted to this type of hands-on customer service and the unique character of the chain, Tavistock was confident that Freebirds would provide a growth vehicle for the company.
“We loved the tagline ‘It’s Not Normal,’ which embodies everything we do,” Barker said.
Noting that employees do not wear uniforms, all food is prepared from scratch daily, only grass-fed beef and hormone-free chicken is grilled, and rock ’n’ roll music is blasted in all restaurants, Barker said Freebirds lives up to its slogan.
“It’s not normal to have this level of service at a fast-casual chain,” she said.
Operating 16 upscale and fast-casual restaurant chains in 100 locations throughout the United States, Tavistock Restaurants acquired all 19 existing Freebirds locations in 2007. The Freebirds brand has since expanded to 87 restaurants, 30 of which opened in 2012. Freebirds locations span across five states including California, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. The chain is expected to extend its presence into Louisiana and Nebraska in 2013.
The two new Modesto Freebirds World Burrito restaurants opened on Nov. 13.
“We have no doubt that residents of Modesto will appreciate, celebrate and embrace the freedom of choice and spirit that accompanies our class leading house-made food,” Barker said.
Located at 1707 McHenry Ave. and 3601 Pelandale Ave., the two Modesto stores were formerly Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurants. Two additional area Freebirds restaurants are located at 1920 W. 11th St. in Tracy, which opened in August, and 3202 Countryside Drive in Turlock, which opened in October.
As part of its growth plan for the Freebirds chain, Tavistock acquired seven Qdoba locations from Qdoba franchisee 4G Management in August.
“This agreement fully aligns with our commitment to expand Freebirds in California’s Central Valley. We have always intended to grow here and this agreement allows us to do so,” said Bryan Lockwood, Tavistock CEO.
Through the Freebirds chain, Tavistock brings more than fresh Mexican cuisine to Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. The company also brings a commitment to become directly involved in local community service projects by way of the Freebirds World Works program.
“World Works is a core tenant of our brand, one in which we take great pride. World Works is about inspiring staff and guests to participate in local, charitable events to help their communities,” said Barker.
Through the program, each Freebirds location is partnered with local charities. The newly opened Modesto stores are aligned with Stanislaus Habitat for Humanity and Second Harvest Food Bank. The store in Turlock is partnering with Turlock Animal Shelter and United Samaritan Foundation, while the Tracy location works with McHenry House and Boys and Girls Club of Tracy.
As it turns out, the program is contagious and has inspired at least one Tracy resident to create his own philanthropic organization.
“Forty-five year old Brian Pekari decided he wanted to make a difference,” said Barker. “He liked the Freebirds mission to ‘feed the belly, feed the soul,’ and told his wife and daughter that he was going to be the first in line to get free burritos for a year so that he could donate them to the McHenry House. He camped out for three nights in 100 degree heat,” said Barker.
After winning the food, Pekari donated the burritos to both the McHenry House and Boys and Girls Club in Tracy. He then launched his own organization called Tracy United to Make a Difference.
Barker said that despite the troubled economy, Freebirds restaurants have performed well, even in economically pressured markets.
“It’s proof positive that we offer a distinct value for money, and that our guests appreciate the food, experience that they get when they decide to come to Freebirds,” she said.