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[Leo and Oliver Kremer]
[Leo and Oliver Kremer]
All Photos by Daniel Krieger

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Leo and Oliver Kremer Kick Off Major Dos Toros Expansion Plan

How two first-time restaurateurs created a highly-scalable taqueria chain in six years

The brothers behind Dos Toros are planning to open a new location of their taqueria near Bryant Park next summer. The new restaurant at 119 W. 40th St. will be Leo and Oliver Kremer's fourth in the area. This is also the ninth new location they've announced in just the last year and a half, a mark of their sudden and recent growth. And it's just beginning for the Kremer brothers. They tell Eater that they're planning to debut 15 to 20 more locations within the next three years, including outposts in other cities like Chicago and Boston. Ask them, and they'll tell you they just want to expose more people to Bay Area-style burritos. But at the rate they're going, it looks more like they're angling for lunch crowd domination — even against Chipotle. "We got some plans," Oliver says. "We want to bring burritos to the people."

As the story goes, the Kremer brothers opened Dos Toros in 2009 after bemoaning the lack of burritos in New York that rivaled their Berkeley hometown favorite, Gordo Taqueria. Neither of them had restaurant experience. "I can't overemphasize how we had no idea what we were doing for a long time," Leo says. Things grew steadily after opening, going from 200 customers a day to 400 customers a day in the first three months. Then the Times wrote a positive review, and suddenly, the tiny Fourth Avenue location was slammed. They were stressed and overwhelmed. "We were praying for rain," Oliver says.

The Kremer brothers launched new locations carefully. They averaged one new Dos Toros a year in the first five years, preferring residential neighborhoods with popular commercial corridors like the West Village and Williamsburg. The truth was that they didn't feel comfortable opening in locations with heavy lunch crowds like the FiDi or Downtown Brooklyn. In the course of a lunch rush, Dos Toros couldn't get enough people through the door to justify the higher rents unless they compromised on quality, Leo says. "It doesn't matter if 1,000 people want to eat lunch at your place, if you can only serve 250 in two hours, that’s your max," he explains. Quesadillas in particular, one of their hallmark menu items, created bottlenecks because they took between 20 and 45 seconds to steam and melt, versus the 10 seconds it took to steam a burrito tortilla.

Brookfield Place is what changed the game and launched their rapid growth in the last year. The kiosk in the food court forced the Kremers to rethink their system. They trained an employee to be a dedicated quesadilla maker, meaning a fresh one was always available immediately during the lunch rush. Other employees were trained on specific items, too. The real kicker, though, was space for a second service line. With the double line, they started serving 450 people in an hour instead of 150. Within hours of the Brookfield Place debut, the Kremer brothers knew they could make it in the lunch space. "It sounds kind of dumb that this is our big innovation," Leo says of the second line. "It's like eight minute abs. But it's really helped us." All Dos Toros locations that have opened since then have had room for a double line.

[The Kremer brothers outside the Maiden Lane location.]

Lunch has gone from half of Dos Toros's business to close to 70 percent. Meanwhile, taquerias with strong lunch business are still doing dinner business that's comparable to ones in more residential neighborhoods, and catering business has boomed with regular clients like Buzzfeed and Spotify. They're projected to break $20 million in revenue this year because of it, the brothers say. "This audience had no options and were totally underserved," Leo says of the lunch crowd. "It’s all these people were like 'Yes!'"

The Kremer brothers say rapid growth has actually helped improve the quality of the food. Employees with more expertise on specific items prepare better food. More purchasing power means they could afford to offer naturally raised steak and pork, which they only started buying last year. Oliver still works the service line five days a week in different stores during peak lunch hour, partly for fun and to hang out with employees but also to figure out what's working. "Oliver is just a stone cold burrito master," Leo jokes. "I don’t have the biggest hands, but they are nimble," Oliver adds, twiddling his fingers. They've also always subscribed to the Danny Meyer philosophy of hiring for people and say that's the philosophy that's helped maintain their bright, friendly culture in all the stores. "We are just trying to make those things not cliche," Leo says. "They actually are really important."

The format of Dos Toros — go through a line, choose your toppings, natural ingredients — is most often compared to Chipotle, and it's a comparison the Kremers have never shied away from. It's mentioned in the silly parody music videos they make, and the new FiDi location at 101 Maiden Lane, opening on Nov. 17, is literally right next to a Chipotle. "It's kind of intense. One of those Mexican standoffs. Or two battleships," Leo jokes. Dos Toros's expansion may be killer lately, but Chipotle is still a giant, with some 200 new locations opening this year. The Kremer brothers know this. "Whatever. Chipotle doesn’t care about us. We care about them," Leo says. And with a lunchtime expansion, it's nearly impossible to open in a space that's not close to the chain. All the new Midtown Dos Toros spots are within a few blocks of several of them. "Any great location you're going to find period, there's going to be Chipotle," Oliver says. A new menu addition of hot corn seems to make Dos Toros's menu even closer to Chipotle's, but the brothers say it wasn't an attempt to match the chain. It's not a salsa, and people were asking for corn in their burritos. The addition was about serving great food — which, if you ask them, is better than what's offered at Chipotle. "We're not afraid of Chipotle," Oliver says. "We're doing our thing."

Dos Toros

465 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Visit Website

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