Taco John’s CEO Leans on Nostalgia and Brand Loyalty to Grow Market Share | Franchise News


Heather Neary, CEO, working the register to get a feel for the brand.

Midwest taco concept Taco John’s brought in Heather Neary as its next president and CEO. Already addicted to the Potato Oles, Neary is approaching the new brand with two decades of experience and excitement.

“I’ve been in the restaurant business probably since I was 14,” said Neary. “I started working at a little cheesesteak sub shop outside of Philly where I grew up.”

Previously brand president at KBP Brands, a large multi-concept franchisee of Pizza Hut, Arby’s and Taco John’s competitor Taco Bell, Neary has seen it all. In college, she was a bartender and server before moving into the corporate world with Auntie Anne’s as a marketing manager and eventually chief marketing officer. She stepped down as brand president of Auntie Anne’s in late 2020 to join KBP.


Neary wants to tell the story of Taco John’s from the perspective of its customers, which the brand hasn’t done much of before.

Taco John’s approached her about its open CEO post—longtime leader Jim Creel announced his retirement last June—to gauge her interest, she said, as it was impressed by her work at Auntie Anne’s. 

“I love being a franchisor, I love working with franchisees to grow the brand,” said Neary. “So I’m excited about taking this 55-year-old brand that really has a people-first culture and taking it to the next level with the team that we have in place.”

Founded in 1969, Taco John’s has grown to more than 300 locations across several states. Neary will continue the brand’s efforts to revitalize itself and expand. As a legacy concept, Neary sees Taco John’s as a brand that needs to focus on itself to make its mark.

“We don’t talk enough about ourselves, how awesome we are and the cool things that we do,” said Neary. “I think there’s ways for us to focus on operational simplicity, speed of service, hospitality.”

Highlighting the unique aspects of the brand, particularly the food, will be part of this effort. Neary also wants to elevate the brand’s delivery and catering side to meet the demands of all guests, “wherever they want us, whenever they want us,” she said. Menu innovation to encourage customers to come back try new products is also on the table.

The restaurants themselves are part of the revamp. A remodeling effort is underway and the company is also opening locations featuring its latest prototype. Future growth will also emphasize an increase in the number of drive-thru units. 


Neary working the drive thru.

Related: Taco John’s Is Updating for the Next Generation – and It’s Working

Leaning on her experience in marketing, Neary is looking at opportunities to promote the brand through social media. Highlighting the nostalgia and personality of the brand across platforms is just one way she plans to grow Taco John’s presence in the QSR segment.

“For us, it’s about shoring up our base, which is really strong, and then doing a little more to talk about what we do as a fan favorite,” said Neary. “There are ways for us to take what we’ve done so well and optimize that for future performance.”

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