Before there was a Mexican restaurant boom, there was Chi-Chi’s

Today, diners can’t lob a jalapeno in a decent-sized town without hitting a Mexican restaurant of some sort. Many likely don’t realize the way was blazed for those options by a former Green Bay Packer and a displaced West Coaster who couldn’t find so much as a taco in his new Midwest haunts.

As this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast reports, the unlikely pair would introduce patches of the heartland to burritos and the like through a restaurant concept named after one of the partner’s wife. She went by the nickname of Chi-Chi.

Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at how the early casual-dining brand served as an unlikely apostle for Mexican fare. But, as the episode shows, that was only one wrinkle in the story. Chi-Chi’s history was a classic tale of a brand growing too quickly, without rock-sound unit economics, without a truly defensible point of difference.

Download the episode and all installments of Restaurant Rewind wherever you get your podcasts.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.