Guatemala-based Pollo Campero, despite operating more than 50 chicken restaurants in the U.S. and 300 worldwide, is not exactly a household name here. A recently unveiled prototype aims to change that.
At the first of three Houston-area stores that will sport the new look, grilled and fried chicken remain the focus of the menu, which is rounded out by Latin drinks like horchatas and sides such as sweet plantains and yucca. The new menu also offers a bigger choice of empanadas, tacos, salads and hot pressed sandwiches inspired by traditional Latin recipes. A fresh salsa bar and open kitchen are centerpieces of the new design.
We talked with the chain’s v.p. of marketing, Lisken Kastalanych, about the new strategy.
RH: What do you see as the key differences between the U.S. market and the Latin market for your product? How do North Americans eat differently than Latin Americans?
Kastalanych: One of the things we’ve been excited about is bringing all those Latin flavors to people here in the U.S. People have loved the mix of spices and citrus and foods like empanadas that you can’t get other places. You are familiar with Latin American food and culture you think it’s authentic. If it’s new to you, you get a taste of new flavors. Just the types of flavors and freshness and variety of flavors under one roof that you can’t experience elsewhere.
Latin culture is very much about enjoying the meal, and we’ve tried to bring that to bear here. It’s about savoring food and enjoying food with friends and family. We put a lot of focus on our service program and developing something with Latin values in it, such as incredible hospitality and a helpful attitude.
RH: What specific tweaks have you made to the menu and service to accommodate the U.S. market?
Kastalanych: We have made some—our concept is famous for our grilled and fried chicken and our Latin ties. We’ve expanded the menu, adding more Latin flavors, and made it more diverse to suit more occasions and the U.S. palate. People order at the counter, but the food is now delivered to the table on real plates.
The building is one of biggest differences. We’ve got three restaurants opening now in Houston, and they are all brand new. The design is strongly positioned around our fresh Latin flavors. It’s very colorful and vibrant, emanating that Latin culture.
RH: Describe a typical Pollo Campero location.
Kastalanych: Our buildings are 2,380 square feet with about 75 seats. We’ve spent a lot of time learning about real estate. We want to be where people live and work. While most of our locations have a drive-through component, it’s really about the dine-in experience and the patio.
RH: How are you approaching U.S. expansion?
Kastalanych: We are starting with Houston as a base. We’ll grow locally and learn from the customers, and as we grow with a mix of company stores and franchising, we will adjust.
RH: What’s the competitive landscape for a concept like this?
Kastalanych: There is nothing like it in the fast casual segment. It’s more of a share of stomach we’re competing for. We provide this Latin culture instead of a canned experience.