Tijuana Flats Announces New Owner, Chapter 11 Filing | Franchise Mergers and Acquisitions


Tijuana Flats filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy April 19.

Tijuana Flats has a new owner, which the company announced after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Florida.

Flatheads LLC acquired the 91-unit Tex Mex franchise from TJF USA, the company announced April 19. The same day, Tijuana Flats filed for Chapter 11 and announced that it closed 11 restaurants that week.

Tijuana Flats’ bankruptcy filing estimates between $1 million and $10 million in assets, with between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities.

“Our company is excited by the new ownership group’s plan to reinvest, focus, and emphasize the things that originally brought so many people to love Tijuana Flats,” CEO Joe Christina said in a statement. “We understand the immediate financial actions taken by them to ensure the long-term health of this great and iconic brand.”

Christina previously held leadership roles at Burger King and Church’s Chicken before taking on his current position in October 2022. He’ll stay on as CEO under the new ownership.

Christina’s updates to the franchise were a selling point for Flatheads, according to a press release. The company revived its franchising initiative in 2021 under former CEO Brian Wright.

Tijuana Flats offers build-your-own tacos, quesadillas, flautas and burrito bowls, among other Tex Mex offerings. Brian Wheeler started the brand in 1995 in Winter Park, Florida. He sold Tijuana Flats in 2015.

Similar concepts in the franchise space include Moe’s Southwest Grill and Qdoba.

Moe’s, owed by Cinnabon’s parent GoTo Foods, did $705 million in sales in 2022, a 6.5 percent increase year over year, despite a 3.5 percent decline in unit count.

Qdoba surpassed $1 billion in 2022, an 8.8 percent increase over 2021. Butterfly Equity purchased the brand in late 2022 and subsequently merged it with Modern Restaurant Concepts, which also owns Modern Market Eatery and Lemonade.

Tijuana Flats started exploring a sale last November. The brand did not immediately respond to request for additional comment.

In its 2022 franchise disclosure document, Tijuana Flats reported average unit volume of $1.4 million.

“Our new partners share a desire to continue the corporate culture and vision of Tijuana Flats, protecting and supporting our team members and franchisees so they can best serve their customers,” Christina said. “With this new ownership structure, and a robust strategic plan, we are well-positioned for an emergence in the fast casual space. I look forward to evolving and expanding our brand and supporting the communities we serve.”

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