The first of its new format Mad Mex has just been launched at Westfield Kotara’s newly opened rooftop dining precinct in Newcastle, NSW. And true to its name, Cantina de Mad Mex offers a more bar-like sit down dining experience than a traditional Mad Mex restaurant.
“Up until now, we’ve had a standard service style business model where all the food is made in front of you,” Clovis Young, CEO of Mad Mex, explained. “You get to choose what you want. We offer high quality food, but it’s been more of a fast food model. We call it ‘fast casual’.
“Our new project is more of a casual dining concept. It allows you to have more of a fun Mexican experience. So when you arrive we have a long bar where we offer a range of fruit juices and cocktails.”
Speaking to Inside Retail Weekly last week, Young said that with the rise of online shopping, traditional shopping centres are shifting the mix of their retailers to include concepts that can deliver more on entertainment and social experience to appeal to a broader market place.
“They may have a good mix of other restaurants, such as Thai, Italian or a steakhouse, and now we want to add a Mexican restaurant,” he said. “They are trying to find the best in class, but the existing Mexican model is very food focused and lunch driven.
“There is a huge amount of demand for a proper Mexican restaurant with a drinks menu that offer a bit of fun. Cantina de Mad Mex is a game changer for our business.”
Young said the new concept would appeal to both families and couples, while still offering a fast takeaway service for people wanting to eat on the run.
“We have always offered great premium food,” he suggested. “We import marinades and sauces directly from manufacturers in Mexico. We bring in products from North America and have a lot of products made in Australia. We have taken quality food as our foundation, but have added a much more social experience on top of that.”
Cantina de Mad Mex stores are also slightly less Mexican and more South Beach Miami, cooler and more sophisticated, according to Young. They intentionally look very different to the traditional Mad Mex stores.
The brand identity and store design concepts were developed by retail strategy and innovation company, The General Store. Matt Newell, strategy director at The General Store said the Cantina experience all revolves around the bar, which is strategically positioned front and centre on the lease line.
“This gives us some great visual merchandising opportunities to help amplify the fun and social environment that awaits customers inside,” Newell said. “The open kitchen is located at the back of the restaurant and features quality design cues to reinforce the quality of the food. And the dining areas have been developed to give the space plenty of street cred.”
Young grew up in San Diego, but his best family holidays were always in Baja, the small peninsular of California that’s actually in Mexico. The food was delicious and he always dreamed of opening a Mexican restaurant. Finally, after doing his research, he opened his first Mad Mex in Australia at the end of 2007 – because the outdoor lifestyle here reminded him of Baja.
Mad Mex currently has 55 outlets in Australia and New Zealand and Young expected the number to grow to close to 70 Down Under by the end of next year.
“We have two sites which we will open in the months after Christmas,” he said. “It’s horses for courses in terms of which model we will use going forward. A traditional Mad Mex store recently opened in the Virgin Domestic terminal in Sydney Airport – in that fringe food court environment – and it’s doing very well. It’s perfect for that market where people are looking for good quality food quickly. It’s a cheaper model to build. It’s smaller and it’s very popular. We have been doing that for eight years and will continue to do so.
“The Cantina solution is designed to go into premium food precincts in shopping centres to deliver a really clear differentiation and fun atmosphere, which can compete well with other brands in this category.”
Young added that the company might also consider new markets in the Middle East and southeast Asia in the future.
10 Mad Mex outlets company owned, while the remainder are franchised. Looking ahead, Young said 75 per cent of Mad Mex growth will be via franchisees.
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