Co-founders Osiris Hoil, CEO, and Marc Wallace, chairman Images courtesy of District TacoCo-founders Osiris Hoil, CEO, and Marc Wallace, chairman Images courtesy of District TacoChipotle Mexican Grill, Five Guys, Panera Bread, QDOBA Mexican Eats — those are some of the most familiar names and groundbreaking concepts in the fast-casual segment that continue to set the pace in the category they helped define. But in the collective shadow of such Goliaths, there’s a slew of up-and-coming concepts — some very new, some newly invigorated and primed for expansion — keeping the category fresh, dynamic and more diverse than ever.

Their menus range from classic comfort and soul foods to ethnic and fusion cuisines, plant-forward, diet-friendly and indulgent vegan. Their founders include entrepreneurial immigrants, opportunity-spotting friends and family members, and even corporate chains seeking new avenues for growth. But as different as they may be, they’re all driven to satisfy consumer appetites for high-quality, flavorful foods, customization, speed and convenience while at the same time delivering unique brand experiences.

District Taco

  • Founders: Osiris Hoil and Marc Wallace
  • HQ: Falls Church, Va.
  • Menu focus: Yucatan-style Mexican
  • Units: 14
  • Average check: $22
  • Ideal unit size: 2,000 – 2,500 square feet

fast casual district ird17khtFounded in 2009 as a taco cart in Rosslyn, Va., by Osiris Hoil and his neighbor Marc Wallace, a tech entrepreneur, District Taco adds unique flavor to the Mexican fast-casual segment. For starters, co-founder, CEO and chief visionary Hoil is a Mexican immigrant who set out to create a concept around the flavors and foods he grew up with, especially authentic Yucatan-style tacos and salsas made from freshly grilled tomatoes and chiles.

With the now-retired taco cart as their entry point, the partners built their first brick-and-mortar District Taco in 2010 in Arlington, Va., and have since expanded to 14 units in Virginia, D.C., Maryland and Pennsylvania. Emerging from the pandemic with a leaner, more efficient business model — marked by a tighter menu, fully integrated technology systems, and brisk off-premises sales — District Taco is geared up for significant expansion. Franchising launched in 2021 and in 2022 the brand signed multi-unit agreements to develop 75 new units, including four slated to open in 2024.

“COVID forced us to make a lot of quick decisions, including getting an app launched and eliminating about 30% of our menu, which ultimately made us stronger,” Hoil says. “In 2019, online orders were only around 4%. Today, they average around 40%. We’ve been able to reduce our store footprints, from 3,300 square feet to closer to 2,000 square feet. We became much more efficient and felt the time was right to franchise.”
District Taco’s new units feature self-order kiosks and a single cashier for guests who prefer personal interaction. Stores are designed to feel clean and bright with a friendly, high-energy vibe and open kitchens showing fresh, authentic preparations. “As soon as you walk in, the focus is on our team and our food, on the grills, on the freshness,” Hoil says. “We don’t want a lot of distractions from that.”

District Taco’s food, after all, is its biggest differentiator in a segment crowded with national chains. “We make tacos the way that you will have them in Mexico,” he notes. “Nothing else tastes like that. We’ve just created systems to make them faster. Of course, we also have burritos, bowls, quesadillas and other items, but our tacos and Yucatan-inspired flavor profiles set us apart.”

Key expansion targets include suburban locations in existing markets, as well as in New Jersey, New York and Florida. Hoil says his sole focus now is on growth through franchising. “That’s where my energy is and what we’re going to do for the next five years,” he says. “The franchisees are our partners, and I’m very committed to their success.”