Our Meet the Merchant series features Q&As with real-world Clover merchants. In today’s installment, we speak with Leslie Reyna of Reyna’s Tacos in San Angelo, Texas. Reyna shares her highs and lows as a restaurateur, and how she converted a gas station into a local taco sensation.
Clover: Good morning Leslie. Can you tell us the backstory of Reyna’s Tacos?
Leslie Reyna: My husband and I started our first restaurant, Reyna’s Taconmadre, here in San Angelo at the Sunset Mall. It was our first business, and we didn’t have very much guidance, so we were just going with our instincts. We ran that restaurant for six months in 2016 with a full menu. But the concept mixed with the location didn’t spell success. We had to finally let that go, which was difficult. It’s tough letting go of a business, even one that isn’t profitable.
In planning our next steps, my husband suggested we buy a food truck. I was skeptical because we were one of the first restaurants in the area to have one. I wondered how much money a food truck could possibly make. But we found the perfect parking spot outside a huge nightclub. Every weekend, we’d fight for that parking spot. We worked so hard. We streamlined our menu to accommodate the reduced kitchen space, so we only made tacos. Every weekend we’d have to leave our family at 11 at night, go downtown, park, sell tacos until two or three o’clock in the morning, then come home.
Clover: What made you pivot from the food truck to the quick service location you have now?
Reyna: We were exhausted from the schedule we had to keep to be successful with the food truck. So, in October 2017 we found our current location, which used to be a gas station. My husband and I both had a vision for this place. We always talked about converting a former service station, because we like big garage doors. We had to make a lot of adjustments, and it took a lot of capital and time.
Clover: How did your changes of location affect your menu?
Reyna: Part of the stress of a full-service restaurant was keeping track of inventory. When we got the truck, we realized speed was the key to making money. The more people we served, the more money we made. We also realized that when we were in the restaurant, our main sellers were tacos. We knew it was a good idea to cut back our menu to just the tacos, because that’s all we could prepare on the food truck. It was simple but genius, because everything’s fresh every day.
Clover: When you went back to brick and mortar, what changed?
Reyna: We mostly stuck to tacos because of the simplicity and their popularity. We added quesadillas for the kids and we [opted to] serve alcohol—beer, wine and margaritas. On our back patio, we installed fresh turf and a serving window, along with custom tables and benches. We also wanted to create more ambiance, so we got a 15-foot inflatable movie screen. We show Cowboys games on the weekends and we do movie nights occasionally. Throughout October, for example, we showed a horror movie every Monday. The tacos, of course, are the lifeblood of this business. But the ambiance sets the mood for a really enjoyable evening.
Clover: How does Clover fit into your business model?
Reyna: Our setup is pretty unique, so we’ve been creative. We have three points of sale to make it easy for the customer to pay and order: the Clover Flex, Clover Station, and the Clover Mini. Since our building used to be a gas station, we were able to convert the former gasoline pump area into a drive through. We used to have seating in the front, but have since moved all seating to the back patio. We converted the whole inside of the building into prep space.
At the drive-through, we use the Station. The Flex device is used when our drive-through line gets too long. We can have employees go down the line, taking orders and payments. Then we have our Mini on the actual food truck (we keep it parked in back), because we’re parked away from the drive-through. That way, we can serve people who want to walk up and eat on the patio.
Clover: I know you used Clover Capital to help set up the new space. Did that work well for you?
Reyna: Very much so. We found out about Clover Capital, applied for it, and got it! It was a small amount at first, just $2,000, but after we repaid it, we reapplied and became eligible for $5,000. The next time we renewed, it was $10,000.
Clover Capital helped us ready our space. Now we have a full outdoor dining patio. The restaurant is directly across from the most beautiful park in town. We’re part of the downtown culture now too, so we get a lot of people from the college, as well as tourists. It’s grown so much, and it really started because we were able to get that extra injection of capital.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life stories of small businesses in action all over the country.