Launched in Conway, Arkansas in 2014, Tacos 4 Life, founded by Austin Samuelson, is a restaurant chain with a charitable mission.
It takes donating to food charities very seriously. Every purchase of a taco, bowl, salad, quesadilla or salad yields a 25-cents donation to the non-profit Feed My Starving Children, dedicated to alleviating hunger worldwide. Meals cost $10 to $15, and donations constituted 4% of total sales.
On 5,400,000 meals served in 2022, it raised the equivalent of $1.3 million for Feed My Starving Children.
But Tacos 4 Life is growing at a steady pace. It has expanded to 26 locations in seven states including Kansas, Missouri, N.C, Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee, with 15 of them franchised.
When Samuelson opened the first Taco 4 Life, he bootstrapped it, using ingenuity and sweat equity. He raised funds from crowdfunding through Indigogo and other sites to the tune of $300,000.
Moreover, Samuelson and two silent partners have capitalized its growth since 2015, without tapping bank loans, private equity or angel investors, as many restaurant chains do.
Samuelson graduated from a Baptist college and his desire to give back, on a daily basis, springs, from “his personal values and his faith.” Some restaurant chains do a quarterly drive for charity or a special night, but Tacos 4 Life raises charitable money on an everyday basis.
His goal is to run a steady, profitable business while also providing meals to the needy. “Yes, you can do both,” Samuelson asserted.
What motivated Samuelson was listening to a lecture in 2008 where Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision United States, an international Christian relief charity, noted that 18,000 people die every day globally from starvation. And yet hunger, he said, is a solvable problem.
Inspired by Stearns’ talk, Samuelson, who is 38-years-old, said, “We want to help end starvation and do that by selling tacos.”
When it chooses franchisees, Samuelson noted, they’re looking for entrepreneurs who want to, in his words, “run a profitable businesses but want to use the restaurant to do good and feed people.” It’s an unlikely mix, but he said, many of these franchisees are attracted to the taco chain because of its mission.
Surveys of its customers reveal that many “come for the food, but have an extra level of attachment or brand loyalty because of the mission.” And if it helps attract returning customers, that feeds (no pun intended) the bottom line.
Feedback at Yelp underscores that many of its customers know what makes Tacos 4 Life tick. Gail, from Conway, Ark, said “Thank you for supporting so many charities and providing food for children. The service was excellent.” And Cameo from Modesto, Calif, added that the “tacos were excellent.”
The 26 locations range from larger cities such as Charlotte to smaller cities such as Blue Spring, Mo. and Midwest City, OK. Samuelson said the idea location is a city of about 100,000 people.
In the remainder of 2023, it’s planning on adding four to five locations including two on college campuses in Arkansas, and in Missouri, N.C. and Virginia.
He said his tacos are “made from scratch and prepared fresh daily, using locally-sourced ingredients.” Some of its most popular items include fried chicken tacos, Korean bbq steak tacos, tofu tacos and classic chicken tacos, and the healthier clientele gravitates toward salad and bowls.
Samuelson described its target audience as “diverse, but often, young professionals or young families who are looking for a fun, casual dining experience, with a purpose.”
In two years, he expected it will double to about 50 locations, with most of the growth stemming from franchising. It’s centered in the Southwest, but is expanding to Virginia and parts north.
Asked the three keys to its continued success, Samuelson replied: 1) Maintaining the mission and its guiding principles, 2) Keeping its commitment to fresh food, 3) Taking care of the franchisees and operators and helping them to succeed.