"This has been such an incredible journey," says Brian Wheeler. Inspired by Burrito Brothers in Gainesville, he opened the first Tijuana Flats in 1995 in Winter Park.
Today, the fast-casual Tex-Mex chain has 70 locations in Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The newest Tijuana Flats is scheduled to open in Orlando's College Park in the spring and the company is planning to open seven more restaurants in Florida and North Carolina by the end of this year.
"Looking back, I was in the right place at the right time," says the UCF alum. "Chipotle and Qdoba were thriving on the West Coast."
The 40-year-old former UPS driver, who had absolutely no restaurant experience, has learned from his successes and mistakes. The most important lesson he learned is to embrace the help and knowledge of a mentor, he said.
"Find someone to show you the ropes. I was blessed to have [Camp] Fitch," a former executive with Bennigan's and the S&A (Steak & Ale) Corp. and partner and owner of several Hops Grill & Brewing restaurants.
"And no matter what you achieve, there is no standing still," says Wheeler. "Keep working at your core business."
--Heather McPhersonCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun