Rusty Tacos Opens Location In Tyler
By CASEY MURPHY
Rusty Fenton believes tacos are the most important meal of the day.
Through a partnership with Tyler businessmen David Weaver, Jeff Worthen and Jeremy Wilson, Fenton is bringing his growing Rusty Taco franchise to Tyler.
From the best-selling brisket taco, to the fried chicken taco and the grilled Mahi-Mahi fish taco, the restaurant has a simple menu made up only of tacos.
Construction crews have been working to renovate and add a patio to the space at 1714 S. Beckham Ave., in the same building as Jersey Mike's Subs and TCBY. Fenton and Weaver said they plan to open the new eatery next week.
Fenton, 52, of Dallas, opened the first Rusty Taco on Greenville Avenue in Dallas in April 2010 after about 20 years working in the restaurant business.
He grew up in Houston and studied architecture at Texas A&M University. He planned to become a real estate developer but when the 1980s recession hit, Fenton started waiting tables to pay the bills and never finished college. He started working for the Pappas family, which owned several franchises, including Pappasito's Cantina and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. He said they were highly disciplined and had a by-the-book checklist on how to run a business. "It was a great college for me," Fenton said.
Fenton was quickly promoted, first to kitchen manager, then to opening a Pappadeaux. But after several years, he decided to go out on his own. With a few partners, he moved to Dallas and opened Uncle Julio's, which was very successful, he said. But Fenton sold the restaurant way to soon, he added.
He went on to spend about another decade working in and consulting other owners to start new restaurants. He learned more about fine dining establishments, and also worked at TGIF Friday and was hired by Trader Vic's to open stores in Dallas, Chicago and Las Vegas.
After the second recession hit a few years ago, Fenton said fancy restaurants started going down and after a consulting job for a restaurant in Corpus Christi, he was out of a job.
Having lived in Texas his entire life, Fenton enjoyed eating at taquerias in Houston and Mexico and always had a love for tacos, he said. For years he had been making notes about the restaurant business and after he was able to put some money together, he opened the first Rusty Taco out of a gas station.
"I wanted to open a gas station that sold tacos," he said. "I liked the irony."
He said the concept took off immediately and people started calling him for franchises and to invest in the business. He called everyone he knew in the industry for advice.
Rusty Taco quickly grew to have two locations in the Dallas area, one in College Station and one in St. Paul, Minn. The franchise is scheduled to open another Dallas store, as well as restaurants in The Colony, Plano and Minneapolis, Minn. in the coming months.
Fenton said he is very selective about who he partners with to open restaurants because everyone wants to open something but they often don't have the capital or the knowhow.
Fenton has a lot of family in East Texas and was interested in opening a Rusty Taco in Tyler. He had gone so far as to visit the city and find a location but didn't seal the deal.
After eating at his Dallas store Weaver, Worthen and Wilson approached Fenton.
Weaver said he signed a lease for the space on Beckham Avenue because he felt it was a great location for a restaurant. He then began the search to find a great taco concept, which he felt was missing in Tyler.
Weaver went to Austin and Dallas trying several restaurants before finding Rusty Taco. He said he loved the environment and the good food and in the process, met Fenton, who he said is down to earth and a great guy.
Fenton said it was amazing how well he got along with Weaver and his partners, whom he called laid back and honest. "I really enjoyed spending time with them," he said.
When Weaver told him he already had a location for the restaurant in Tyler, Fenton knew it was the same site he had looked at, he said.
Through their company, Lone Star Restaurants, Weaver, Worthen and Wilson are partnering with Fenton's company for a joint venture. Fenton, who serves as chief executive officer of Rusty Taco, said he sees the partnership as an active part of the growth of his franchise and that both of their companies will add value to the other. He said they plan to open more locations in East Texas and are already looking at sites.
Weaver and Worthen are business partners on other franchises and Wilson is a longtime friend of Weaver's, Weaver said.
Weaver, Worthen and Bryan Selden, through their partnership with Lone Star Restaurants, have several franchises in Texas. Either together or separately, the men are franchisees of Jersey Mike's, TCBY, Wingstop, Smashburger, Great American Cookies and Subway.
Weaver said when he ate at Rusty Taco, he was drawn to the freshness of the food, such as the fresh made guacamole and queso, and the creativeness of the restaurant.
"We only serve tacos," Fenton said, adding that most Mexican restaurants add rice and beans to jack up the prices, when people only want tacos. He said with the economy the way it is, he asked, "How cheap can we make it?"
They are conscious of value -- making great food fast at cheap prices, Fenton said, adding that they want to serve authentic Mexican food. Fenton decided to get rid of the waiters and have highly trained cashiers and kitchen managers at Rusty Taco.
Weaver said they will specialize in breakfast tacos but will also serve lunch and dinner. Rusty Taco will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day and will start out with 15 to 20 employees. For more information, visit www.therustytaco.com