El Pollo Guapo Co-Owners Heather and Roy Riedl spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about their business growth and plans to continue takeout to keep the community well fed.
NAN PRICE: We met back in 2016, when I first tasted your food and interviewed you about the Mercado food truck. Let’s talk about your business evolution since then.
HEATHER RIEDL: We realized we can’t be spreading ourselves so thin operating all these different concepts at the same time. So, we decided to close the Mercado concept on the food truck and focus on the success of the El Pollo Guapo restaurants and growing them from the foundation up. We want to work on strengthening our culture at each restaurant and be able to offer better perks to our staff.
NAN: Front Street in Hartford is your second location. Why Hartford?
HEATHER: With the food truck, we’d been a regular visitor in Hartford, but our goal had always been to have some sort of presence downtown. We wanted to have roots in Hartford where we could really feel like part of the community, contribute to the community, and be involved in Hartford’s revival. We opened our Hartford location in December 2018.
ROY RIEDL: When we opened our first El Pollo Guapo restaurant in Wethersfield in June 2017, the location and concept were chosen based upon the food truck. It was to create a commissary from the truck. Wethersfield was easily accessible to Hartford, where we did a lot of our business. With Hartford, we wanted to expand on the brand and hire more people within the community. So, our goal was creating more jobs and more opportunities.
HEATHER: We received a job creation grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), which was another huge motivating factor for us to be in the city of Hartford. We knew we were going to provide jobs, but it was great to have the support of the city and know we were accountable to hire and create full-time jobs for at least 15 people.
ROY: Honestly, we weren’t really ready to open in Hartford, but the opportunity was there. Clearly, we were meant to be able to move into that spot, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the DECD and the fact that the location was already built out.
NAN: And you have a third location in Glastonbury.
HEATHER: Yes, we opened in November 2019. Hartford catapulted this location. The support we’ve gotten from the City of Hartford and from the people working and living in Hartford put us in a cashflow situation where we were able to open the Glastonbury location without needing to get funding from outside sources.
NAN: That’s a lot of business growth in a short time. Do you have plans for additional locations?
ROY: Our model is to have a lot of overlapping territories. If you look at each one of our locations, they’re about 10 minutes apart and less than 10 miles apart, but we’re hitting three totally different markets. That’s kind of the idea. Wethersfield is on the Berlin Turnpike. It’s smaller and more of a takeout restaurant. It’s a different demographic than in Glastonbury, where it’s a little more consistent throughout the day; the business there is steady and there’s more seating. Our Hartford location is really driven by the day-to-day traffic.
The risk of having restaurants of the same concept too close is that you end up “double dipping.” You kind of steal from Peter to give to Paul. The way we’ve been able to place our restaurants, we’re almost sharing our customer base. Some people work in Hartford and go to that location for lunch and then come to Glastonbury for dinner. The idea is to not just open more locations open more, but to strategically to be able to meet our demographic’s needs.
HEATHER: In terms of our next location, we’re planning to convert our current asset of the Mercado food truck to be an El Pollo Guapo truck. We think it will help us expose more people in different areas of Hartford and get people even more familiar with the brand in other pockets of Hartford without needing to open another brick-and-mortar location. That’s next on our horizon for El Pollo Guapo. We’re sad to see our other concept go, but it’ll enable us to strengthen our core here in Hartford.
NAN: How has the pandemic impacted your business?
HEATHER: We’ve modified our hours and we are open for takeout from all three locations. We’re grateful for our customers and happy to keep some of our staff employed.