Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tito's: From houses to tacos

From real estate to a taco shop? It doesn’t sound likely, but in the case of Danny Damian and his wife, Sue, it’s a perfect transition. When the recession hit in 2008, the real estate and housing market plummeted, and like many other self-employed realtors Danny and Sue were met with the challenge of how to maintain a steady income in an unsteady market.

Having worked at his family’s taco shop since he was a young boy, opening up his own taco shop was the obvious choice for Danny when looking for another source of income. “I’ve been working at a taco shop ever since I can remember, but I never thought I’d do it again!” Danny explains.

Well, all that experience is paying off. After just one and a half years, Danny and Sue have two taco shop locations in Logan Heights and another that recently opened in La Mesa four months ago. They’ve doubled the number of employees hired, currently employing eight people to run both locations.

Unlike most ACCION clients, the Damians never sought financing from a traditional bank, but instead as a start-up went straight to ACCION at the recommendation of one of their real estate clients. While starting their first location, the Damians needed financial capital to install a kitchen hood system. In February 2010, they successfully obtained an $8,000 loan from ACCION when they needed it the most. After buying the second location, another loan was needed for a similar hood installation, and they were able to obtain a second $7,500 ACCION loan in July 2011.

As you can imagine, running two businesses is not easy. To be real estate agents by day and taco shop owners by night, the Damians work seven days a week in order to keep up with their double life. A typical day starts at 8 AM doing real estate; then, at 3:30 PM they put on their Tito’s uniform and serve tacos till 11 PM.

But the secret to their success isn’t much of a secret at all. Every month, Danny and Sue sit down together and revisit their business model to see what they can work on, and then they work on it. It’s as simple as that. Hoping to eventually stop selling real estate and work at their taco shops full time, Danny and Sue are confident in their business and want to open at least two more locations in the future.

What Danny most enjoys about running his taco shop is getting to know his customers. With a lot of other businesses surrounding their Logan Heights shop, lunchtime is busy, and local workers can often be found eating inside the music-filled shop.

The biggest challenge for Danny when Tito’s opened was getting the word out, especially with the fierce competition coming from existing Mexican food places. However, Danny soon figured out that the same marketing he uses in his real estate business could be used to promote his taco shop. He used bench ads, print advertising, and flyers to cleverly and efficiently promote his real estate business on one side and Tito’s on the other.

A more recent challenge is the steady rise of food costs. As a business, Tito’s is forced to absorb the cost since raising menu prices may result in the loss of customers. Nevertheless, Tito’s is here to stay.

Danny’s advice to those wanting to start their own business? “Do it now. Don’t think about it too much, don’t over-strategize, just do it.”

 2850 National Ave. Ste.108
San Diego, CA 92113
5257 Baltimore Drive
La Mesa CA 91942

For more information on Tito’s Taco Shop, call (619) 739-2116 or visit

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the advice and words of encouragement.

    Good article!