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The Fish Tacos At Rubio's Are What Inspired The Success Story Of The Restaurant's Co-founder

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By Author: Menu Cuisine
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The gig: Ralph Rubio, 59 years old, is one of the co-founders of Rubio's, a chain of quick-service restaurants famous for serving burritos, bowls, and fish tacos that have been battered in beer. Carlsbad serves as the company's hub, and its locations can be found all the way up the coast of California to Sacramento, as well as in Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. The corporation is comprised of approximately 193 dining establishments and 4,000 staff members.

California dreaming: Rubio was born in New Jersey, and his family remained there for several years until his father, Rafael "Ray" Rubio, found work at a plastics company. Rubio then moved to the West Coast. The family boarded a ship bound for California and made their first stop in Santa Monica before relocating to Carson. It was in Carson that Rubio would complete his high school education. Following the guidance of his father, he attended San Diego State University in 1973 with the intention of majoring in business. Rubio recalled his father telling him, "Son, there are limits in working for somebody else, and if you ever get the chance to own your own business, ...
... you should do that because it will give you more freedom." "That had a significant impact on me, and he served as a model for me in that regard." Rubio, on the other hand, found that his early accounting classes did not pique his interest. As a result, he gravitated towards psychology and eventually earned a degree in liberal studies while also minoring in Spanish.

Fish tacos: When Rubio was a freshman in college, he went to Mexico for spring break with a group of his friends. While there, he had his first taste of a fish taco. Instantaneously, he was drawn in. "I fell in love," Rubio said. While we were in that area, our daily diet consisted entirely of fish tacos. The trip to Mexico turned into an annual tradition, and while Rubio was sitting on a bar stool one night at his favourite fish taco stand, he had what he referred to as "an epiphany." He wondered why someone in San Diego didn't open a restaurant like this one. "As soon as that was over, I reflected on the situation and thought to myself, 'Well, maybe I could do it.'" The fish taco at Rubio's is currently the most popular item on the restaurant's menu. "I would be surprised if that ever changed," he said. "That hasn't changed in my experience." "As a matter of fact, we have no desire for that to undergo any changes." This summer should see the chain reach its milestone of selling its 200 millionth fish taco.

A family affair: After graduation, Rubio made a deal with his dad. If the younger Rubio got some experience in restaurant management, the elder would lend him the start-up cash to make the fish taco stand a reality. In 1983, father and son bought an old Orange Julius stand in San Diego, applied a fresh coat of paint and hung the “Rubio’s Fish Tacos” sign. Rubio’s parents and four siblings helped him run the business in the early days, and his brother even helped him create the fish batter recipe. “They were shareholders in the business, so they did very well when the company went public,” Rubio said. “My dad in particular. That $70,000 turned out to be a nice investment for him.”

Going private: In 2010, Rubio made the decision to privatise the chain. Although he has divested himself of a significant portion of his holdings in the company, he continues to hold some ownership in the business and serves on its board of directors. In addition to his role as "head of culinary," Rubio is also involved in the marketing, real estate, and restaurant design processes. In this capacity, he is responsible for the development of new menu items. He stated that "it was strategically and financially advantageous to go private," and I quote: "going private was advantageous." Since that time, we have made significant investments in rebranding Rubio's, which have been met with great success.

Return to the sea: The restaurant chain was known as Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, and it competed with other establishments in the industry such as Baja Fresh, La Salsa, and Chipotle. Rubio stated that at that time "we were in a very competitive space, not so unique and differentiated as we had started." It was time for them to rebrand themselves and return to their roots in the seafood industry. Rubio said, "We went from Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill, which featured a lot of emphasis on land proteins like chicken and steak in addition to seafood, to Rubio's Coastal Grill, which features an emphasis on grilled seafood." Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill featured a lot of emphasis on land proteins like chicken and steak in addition to seafood.

Restaurant remodeling: About 25 Rubio’s restaurants in the San Diego area and two in Los Angeles — Monrovia and Glendale — have already been remodeled to reflect the company’s new name and its beachy beginnings. Forty more locations in L.A. and Orange County are scheduled for remodeling this year. “The design and menus are resonating with people,” he said. “Frequency is up with current guests, and we’re attracting new guests who had not been at Rubio’s before.”

Passing the baton: Rubio and his wife of 26 years have made their home in Encinitas. He is the parent of two grown children, and it's possible that one of them will follow in his footsteps and open a restaurant. Get some experience in management, was the piece of advice that Rubio passed down to his son from his own father more than three decades ago. In addition to this, he suggested doing something new, which was to get an MBA. Rubio stated that "he is going to get that formal education that he won't get from his dad because I realized what a competitive advantage that can be." Rubio's father did not complete his formal education. "When he finally gets out of there, perhaps we can do something together. We'll form a partnership and open a business based on an idea that he conceives and develops; alternatively, he could go and work with somebody else or collaborate with Rubio's.

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