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Hacienda Mexican Restaurants celebrate 40 years

Wednesday, June 13, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sarah Stegmeyer
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After 40 years in business, you’d expect some skeletons in the attic. That’s true for Hacienda Mexican Restaurants, but not how you might think.

In the rafters of the popular restaurant’s original and presumed haunted location at 706 Lincoln Way W. in Mishawaka is something of a graveyard consisting of toy skeletons, old promotion materials, booths, tables and chairs. Despite popular belief, however, no ghosts were seen this past Thursday, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

“You would see some things when you are here late at night like a closed door or lights flickering,” said Jeff Leslie, who was general manager at the location near the 100 Center before eventually becoming vice president and chief marketing officer for Hacienda restaurants. “If you believe in the paranormal, you may think it’s a ghost. But, I think it’s just an old house.”

 

On June 14, 1978, that old house opened as the first Hacienda, having been converted from a former restaurant called Caravan. Before the cantina was built, customers would sit on the front stoop waiting for their table and would enter through the front doors. According to Leslie, the company didn’t have a three-way liquor license at the time, so the restaurant did what it could and made margaritas out of wine. It didn’t go so well.

Soon after, the company expanded to the south side of South Bend at the former Scottsdale Mall (now Erskine Village). Other locations popped up throughout South Bend, Mishawaka and Elkhart, and the company has since expanded to Plymouth, Kokomo and Evansville. Now, the business has 14 locations across Indiana and it seems like everyone has “their Haci.”

“We develop a local feel and connection in whatever market we are in,” Leslie said. “Generally, the market there doesn’t know that we are in other markets as well because we feel so local. … We want to be able to reach different markets, to be able to reach guests and to be able to employ people. That is our goal.”

As the business grew, new menu items were introduced. But the cornerstones continue to be wet burritos, frozen margaritas and all the chips and salsa one can eat (which is even better with a side of Hacienda’s famous ranch that is made fresh every day with real honest-to-goodness buttermilk). Even though everyone has their favorite menu items, offering new items every now and again is important to Hacienda because it helps the restaurant do what has kept it open for four decades — stay current.

“Guests today have changed,” Leslie said. “Guests now have many more options with national chains and their experience with a variety of food has changed and their overall pace of life has changed. They feel like they have less time then they did before and our carry-out has grown leaps and bounds because of it. … Everybody just seems to be scheduled now and we found that we can serve that and it just so happens that the wet burrito travels very well.”

The business also takes other steps to help stay current, including catchy marketing billboard campaigns (one of my favorite examples is “Get Chip Faced”), a broader selection of healthier menu items and, most recently, an effort at becoming more environmentally conscious by not handing out as many straws.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Hacienda is offering a week of promotions beginning Monday, ranging from $2 tacos on Tuesday, $1 frozen margaritas on Wednesday and $2.75 wet burritos on Thursday. Those specials are good at all Hacienda locations.


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