How an Organic, Healthy QSR is Built

By Bijan Shahrokhi in Quick Service, Retail, Uncategorized

Poppos Taqueria is a Quick Service Restaurant that is the brain child of the Coleman brothers, and Rowen Beals, who started it on the idyllic little Anna Maria Island. THAT is not what makes it unique; it’s position on the leading edge of the food movement (organic, GMO free and locally sourced). AND it’s competing in the QSR market, meaning value pricing and fast service are essential to its success.

Here’s our interview with Patrick Coleman, the inspiration behind Poppo,s incredible, fresh, food.

1.What was your inspiration for Poppo’s? Was it Cali based?

Yes. My family lived in the San Francisco bay area for over twenty five years. My parents and older brothers were around to experience the genesis of the unique taquerias that developed in San Francisco and Oakland during the 1970’s. I grew up eating and loving this delicious food, which hides a surprising complexity of preparation and flavor in the humble packaging of grab and go street food.

2. When did you get into ‘clean, healthy eating?

Healthy food has always been a part of my life. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that ‘shopped the outside isles’ as they say. My best friends’ mom was a macrobiotic chef, and my uncle was a biodynamic farmer. I started really digging into the health aspects of food for myself when I began to display minor symptoms of autoimmunity in my early twenties. Since then I have learned as much as I can about using food as both preventative and curative medicine. This has made a huge difference in my own life.

3. How much harder is it for you to procure your ingredients – and what are your requirements?

To handle the second part first: Fundamentally, we do our best to provide food for our customers that we ourselves would be happy to eat. I’m going to use the term ‘real food’ as a broad descriptor for what this means. More specifically, we guarantee that our meats are always free of antibiotics and hormones, that our produce is organic unless we literally cannot get an item, that our drinks are free of high fructose corn syrup, and that virtually all our food is prepared from scratch using clean ingredients. One of the major comforts of eating at home is that you can control what goes into your body. In most cases, you have to sacrifice that security for the experience and convenience of eating out. We’re helping to bring security and ease back together in the fast-casual experience.

It has definitely taken a lot of extra effort for us to track down ingredients that meet our standards. It has also been a significant cost burden. Markets in many parts of the U.S. have only just begun catching onto the real food movement. We have had to balance our own standards against both the availability of unconventional ingredients, and the willingness of customers to pay the extra cost for them. At the moment this is a labor of love, a matter of personal ethics, but I think our approach will pay dividends in the future.

4. Tell me about your non-Marketing philosophy.

The overall absence of marketing is a natural reflection of the owners’ personalities. We are fairly introverted people; we don’t like drawing much attention to ourselves. We prefer to let our actions do the talking. If we are doing our jobs well, then our customers will tell their friends about the great experience they had. Our consistent, organic growth in sales with almost no marketing to speak of tells me that people are talking about us, not because we forced our way into their mental space, but because they actively want to share a great experience they had with the people they care about. If there is any strategy involved, it would be around the fact that we believe people have become desensitized to most forms of marketing anyway. These days, the unprecedented interconnectedness of the developed world through social media platforms has made traditional marketing pale in comparison to old fashioned word of mouth.

5. Do you have a specific demographic or is it across age and gender?

I like to think we have something that appeals to everyone. The diversity of our customer base would seem to support that, though I would say that we definitely appeal specifically to health conscious people, and we are one of only a handful of local businesses filling that market need.

6. What has surprised you most?

I’m not totally sure how to answer this question. Of course, we never would have opened Poppo’s in the first place if we didn’t believe it could be successful, but on some level success still comes as a surprise. It is an odd feeling, when imagination starts settling into reality. I guess the most surprising part of all this has been the incredible warmth of our reception. Our customers and community have been so supportive of what we’re doing. It’s surprising, but it’s also central to our motivation for keeping at it every day, for maintaining and improving standards.

7. Tell me about your local produce and the wild boar meat?

We absolutely love it when we get an opportunity to serve any proteins that are wild, grass fed, locally raised, etc… Now and then we’ll run a grass fed beef special using beef from Johnston’s Farm over in Myakka. We’ve gone out and visited their operation, talked at length with Allen. He is really running a responsible operation. We sometimes serve pasture raised Bison from Three Suns Ranch in Punta Gorda. Keith also provides us with Florida wild boar from time to time, which is just awesome. Florida has a very real feral hog problem, one that creates a lot of waste. Hogs are being shot by the thousands in an effort to protect local wildlife, but until now there was no commercial use for them, so most were going to waste. Now that we can get USDA approval for responsibly processed wild hog, this waste has an outlet. It is my hope that someday soon it will be financially feasible for these quality proteins to become regular menu items.

As to local produce, we definitely care about supporting local agriculture, in terms of both environmental and economic sustainability. However, there are a list of ingredients that we must have for our type of operation at all times and in large quantities. Many of those are either not grown in Florida at all, or not during certain seasons, or not in sufficient quantities. Organic farming in this area is extremely small scale. Our internal focus is much more centered around food quality than regionality. We focus on natural meats, organic produce, clean spices, etc… Now and then we’ll pick up something from a local farm and run it as a special. For instance, last season we did a delicious zucchini quesadilla using produce from Geraldson’s Community Farm. We are very pleased that our  produce distributor, Global Organics, focuses heavily on local produce, procuring it for us whenever possible.

8. How do you see the concept growing?

What we want most is to continue serving unique, delicious food, setting a good example and honing our standards. This way we will continue to attract and serve the customers who care about real food and appeal to people who want to put the force of their creative energy behind a movement they believe in.

10. What are your goals long term?

As I said, my personal passion is all about improving standards, breaking through norms, creating the restaurant that I want to eat in and bringing it to as many people as possible. So yes, I’d love Poppo’s to have a national presence. Based on my experience so far, I think it will. The depth and breadth of our support structure, most notably Ed Chiles, who has encouraged us from the start and brought significant resources to bear, gives a rational basis for this.

Follow Poppos Tacos journey on Facebook.

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