Fernando Martinez: El Taco Luchador is ‘the future’ of Olé Restaurant Group

El Taco Luchador’s first location opened on New Year’s Day 2014 at 938 Baxter Ave. | File Photo

The future of the restaurant industry is fast casual, said chef and restaurateur Fernando Martinez, which is why his Olé Restaurant Group is banking on El Taco Luchador.

The Louisville-based restaurant group, whose partners include Cristina Martinez and Yaniel Martinez, is opening a second El Taco Luchador at 112 Meridian Ave. The space was formerly occupied by Meridian Cafe, which has moved. (IL will have more on that in a separate article Thursday.)

“El Taco Luchador, it appeals to more people. Everybody has $2 or $3 to get a taco,” he told Insider Louisville in an interview. “To us, that is the future.”

IL reported last September that Olé Restaurant Group was looking to add a second location. Martinez in a Facebook post asked his friends what they thought of a location in Norton Commons, where the company operates Mercato Italiano Trattoria & Market.

Martinez Wednesday told IL that the plan continues to be expansion, but time will tell where El Taco Luchador decides to open more locations. Possibly one in Prospect and another in Middletown, he said.

“Whatever growth we have, we want it to be organic,” he said. “We don’t want to rush anything. We want to take our time.”

Fernando Martinez and his wife, Cristina Martinez | File Photo

Olé Restaurant Group doesn’t plan to franchise the restaurant, but Martinez does foresee it becoming a local chain. El Taco Luchador is easier to replicate than most of the group’s other restaurants because it has fewer employees and lower overhead.

“That’s the beauty of the concept; the overhead is a lot lower, and it helps,” Martinez said.

El Taco Luchador employs 15 to 25 people, depending on the season.

As part of the growth, Olé Restaurant Group plans to play with the menu and test new items, Martinez said.

The original El Taco Luchador opened on 938 Baxter Ave. in 2014. Unlike the restaurant concepts in that spot previously, El Taco Luchador was able to shake the voodoo of the building and has successfully operated there for three years. Other concepts at that location didn’t operate half as long.

Martinez said El Taco Luchador on Baxter continues to do well, and the company plans to invest in the property later this year, including possibly enclosing the patio in the front to allow for year-round use.

In St. Matthews, the 2,343-square-foot building allows for at least double the seating, Martinez said, because it has a basement that the company wants to turn into a food preparation area.

He declined to disclose how much Olé Restaurant Group will invest in the building in St. Matthews. They are still trying to figure out exactly what work needs to be done to the building to bring it up to code, he said, including adding gas to the kitchen. Meridian Cafe only has appliances that worked off electricity.

“All that was grandfathered in, but we have to do a little bit more to the kitchen,” Martinez said.

When it opens in St. Matthews, El Taco Luchador will face direct competition from another locally owned taqueria, The Ville Taqueria. Owner and chef Fabian Leon opened the restaurant in 2014 and received positive marks from our reviewer Kevin Gibson. IL couldn’t reach Leon for comment.

MexA Tacos also is just around the corner on Lexington Road.

The amount of businesses and homes in St. Matthews should allow the restaurants to compete within a short distance of each other, Martinez said, noting that the Baxter Avenue El Taco Luchador does just fine even though there’s a Chipotle down the street.

“There is a lot of density in St. Matthews, so I think there will be enough for everybody,” he said. “They have a good product. We also have a good product.”