CEO and founder, Chando’s Tacos and Chando’s Cantina
Lisandro Madrigal knew 2020 would be a landmark year for Chando’s Enterprises, the Mexican restaurant group he started in 2010. The first pages in his calendar were dotted with red-letter days: the opening of two new Chando’s Tacos locations, the third in Sacramento and the first in Citrus Heights, and the long-awaited launch of the Chando’s Tortillas factory at the former United Bakery building in West Sacramento.
Madrigal acquired the bakery building in 2016, but his tortilla roots go back further: His father ran a tortilleria in Tijuana in the 1990s and hoped to start one in Sacramento before his death in 2007. It was the tortilla factory plan that prompted Madrigal to leave his 10-year career at Apple, where he started in telesales at 20 and tested his recipes at company potlucks; tacos were something of a detour.
But when the tortillas from the newly opened factory reached his six restaurants in March, California had ordered the majority of businesses to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With dining rooms shuttered, every taco, burrito and mulita had to be packaged to go — if customers came at all.
“The first week was hell,” says Madrigal, 39. He estimates sales that week dropped by 90 percent at the Roseville location of Chando’s Tacos, 80 percent at Arden Way in Sacramento, and 70 percent at both the West Sacramento and Power Inn Road in Sacramento locations. The Chando’s Cantinas in Midtown Sacramento and El Dorado Hills, table-service restaurants with live music, saw sales drop to near zero.
“Don’t chase paper, chase your passion! Love what you do. Do what you love. Stay humble.”
After sales bottomed out, “We crammed ourselves in my office for two days straight with my kids and family, and we’re like, ‘We need to survive,’” Madrigal says. Their agenda was a series of existential questions: How could they lessen the impact on revenue and keep employees working?
The first decision he and his wife, Karla Madrigal, made was to give up their salary to make payroll. Then they closed the struggling Chando’s Cantinas, laid off about 30 of the two restaurants’ employees and offered 16 kitchen workers jobs at Chando’s Tacos — where all 100-plus employees stayed on board with reduced hours — and brainstormed new products geared toward the shelter-in-place lifestyle, including the QT-2020 Survival Kit (short for “quarantine 2020”). The kit contains all the ingredients necessary to make some of Chando’s signature dishes, with guidance from a video tutorial starring Madrigal’s daughters, Xio, 16, and Lali, 12.
Over the following weeks, Madrigal gave away thousands of dollars worth of kits through radio and Facebook contests and performed free Facebook Live concerts with his band, Autenticos de Sacramento, in his backyard. As he ramped up this creative marketing, sales followed suit. “We’re not where we’ve been but where we should be right now,” he says.
But he is most proud of showing his four children “that you don’t break under pressure,” he says. “No matter how tough a situation can be, if you build a plan, you work your plan and you have good intentions, you can make things happen.”
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