Mexican food and drinks have become a mainstay in the United States, but few companies approach Mexican culture like Xperience Restaurant Group. The California-based operator of 11 different restaurant brands that span 74 locations nationwide doesn’t push traditional Tex-Mex fare, opting instead for authentic Mexican experiences with menus to match. Most of the company’s different concepts highlight a specific region in Mexico, offering unique takes on that area’s specialties. The result is a comprehensive and growing portfolio of Mexican destinations with thriving bar programs.
In 2022, Xperience Restaurant Group’s annual revenue reached $300 million, with beverage alcohol comprising roughly 25% of that total. Cocktails and spirits make up the vast majority of drinks sales—at almost 80%—and each of the company’s restaurant concepts highlights agave in its own way. Margaritas move fast at Xperience venues, but guests also enjoy creative agave-based updates on other drinks. The company’s largest chain concepts include El Torito Mexican Restaurant, which boasts 31 units in California, and Chevy’s Fresh Mex, which has 15 company-owned and seven franchised locations in nine states.
“Mexican culture is what we’re good at,” says Randy Sharpe, Xperience Restaurant Group’s CEO and president. “It’s what we know. Margaritas are our mainstay and every restaurant has its own. Who doesn’t love tacos and Margaritas? They go hand in hand. Beverage is a big part of our mix.”
All About Drinks
In a world where interest in Tequila is surging, Xperience Restaurant Group venues are well-suited to meet guest demand. The restaurants offer a wide array of Margaritas, as well as other classic drinks they’ve revamped to include Tequila and mezcal. The venues also list an array of other signature specialties that highlight Mexican spirits.
“Guests are seeking out restaurants with great Margarita and Tequila offerings, and more guests are taking the beverage menu into consideration along with the dining menu when deciding where to dine,” says group vice president of marketing and commercial strategy Giovanni Salvino-Prada. “We curate crave-worthy drinks and dishes that make guests want to return. We take a 360-degree approach to beverage innovation to ensure each cocktail complements our food but is also one of a kind. We take what our guests love and create something unique so they leave our restaurants and share the experience.”
The company’s flagship concept, El Torito Mexican Restaurant was founded in 1954 and emphasizes freshness in drinks and food. In its 60-plus years, El Torito has embraced the change necessary to stay relevant while still honoring its original roots. The concept’s menu includes more than ten takes on the Margarita, from the upscale Cadillac Margarita made with Lunazul Reposado Tequila to flavored offshoots like the Jalapeño Cucumber made with El Jimador Silver Tequila and the Skinny Rosé made with Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila and Hampton Water rose wine. In addition, the venue’s non-Margarita offerings include the Tequila-based Paloma and Mexican Ginger Mule, and the Smoky Pineapple Mezcal, which blends Del Maguey Vida mezcal and Ancho Reyes Chile liqueur with agave nectar and lime and pineapple juices (drinks are $9-$17 at the flagship unit in Cypress, California).
Though cocktails dominate drinks sales at El Torito, the restaurants also offer an array of beers and wines. The beer list highlights Mexican labels, ranging from Corona and Dos Equis to Modelo and Tecate ($6-$7 a bottle, can, or draft pour) while the wine list offers approachable labels like Noble Vines Sauvignon Blanc and Robert Mondavi Chardonnay and Pinot Noir ($7-$12 a glass; $26-$38 a 750-ml.). El Torito’s food menu includes a variety of fajitas, tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, as well as specialties like carne asada and chile relleno (entrées range from $13-$25).
“We’ve reimagined and re-envisioned El Torito to give it an Old World charm with a modernized look,” Sharpe says. He adds that though the concept has multiple units across multiple states, the look and feel of each venue is consistent. This is true across all of Xperience Restaurant Group’s concepts. “The brands are super unique and true to themselves, from casual dining up to fine dining,” Sharpe explains. “We really don’t have cross over when it comes to each brand, but the foundation of the company is based on similar culture everywhere. For us, that’s about doing the right thing—taking care of our people and buildings, and taking great care of our guests. It’s that simple. We don’t want to overthink it.”
Freshness is key across the portfolio too, for both drinks and food. Xperience concepts embrace the notion of a scratch kitchen and bar to the fullest. “Literally speaking you don’t even need a freezer in our restaurants,” Sharpe says. “The only things in our freezers are shrimp and ice cream. The steps we need to take to create our quality take longer, and it’s more expensive, but it’s the right way to do it.”
Chevys Fresh Mex is Xperience’s second-biggest concept, spanning more than 20 locations in nine states. The brand was founded in 1986 and highlights handcrafted Margaritas alongside California-inspired Mexican fare, from fajitas and mesquite-grilled meats to tacos and enchiladas (food is $15-$27 in San Francisco). Drinks at Chevys lean heavy into the Margarita category. The restaurants offer creative takes like the Cucumber Cooler Margarita, mixing El Jimador Silver Tequila, agave nectar, lime juice, cucumber purée, and soda water, and the Black Diamond, made with Maestro Dobel Silver Tequila, Hennessy Cognac, and lime and orange juices. Chevys also offers a Margarita flight that includes smaller pours of original lime, mango, and strawberry Margaritas, and the Rum Rita, which is made with SelvaRey white rum, lime juice, agave nectar, and soda water (drinks are $9-$16).
“When we make a cocktail or reimagine our Margaritas, we’ve really pushed to make sure we’re using fresh ingredients,” Sharpe says. Salvino-Prada adds that the company’s drinks innovations have been very well received. “We’ve looked at non-traditional Tequila innovations and introduced unique drinks like a Tequila Old Fashioned, Amaretto Sour, and frozen Margarita with rose wine,” he explains. “We’re continuing to see a desire for tropical flavors too. Grapefruit, lime, pear, and passionfruit do incredibly well.”
Drinks innovation happens fast at Xperience’s smaller restaurant concepts, and those venues often end up acting as incubators for larger beverage decisions chain-wide. Sol Mexican Cocina has six units in California, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada, and recently updated its cocktail and food menus. The concept added a location in Irvine, California in April 2022, and debuted the new menu there first; when guests embraced it, the revamped menu was implemented at other Sol locations. “Every cocktail was touched and every recipe was looked at,” Sharpe says. “That’s our process for menu engineering—try it in a new restaurant and then bring it to the others if it works.”
Along with Margaritas, Sol’s cocktail menu lists specialties like the Old Fashioned-inspired La Buena Suerte, which can be made the traditional way with Angel’s Envy rye or the Xperience way with Chamucos Extra Añejo Tequila or SelvaRey Owner’s Reserve rum. In addition, the venue lists the Berries & Blooms, mixing Código 1530 Rosa Blanco Tequila, Aperol, raspberries, honey, and lime juice, and The Mezcalero, a blend of Del Maguey Vida mezcal, passion fruit, guava, and lime (cocktails are $14-$38 at the Sol in Irvine, California). Sol lists more than 30 sipping Tequilas too ($11-$95 a 2-ounce pour), along with a selection of beers ($7-$14 a bottle, can, or draft pour) and wines ($11-$39 a glass; $40-$350 a 750-ml.). Food at Sol focuses on the Baja Peninsula and includes myriad specialty tacos, as well as ceviche, short ribs barbacoa, and pork carnitas ($9-$38).
An offshoot of Sol, Xperience also operates Solita Tacos & Margaritas, which has four locations in California plus one each in Chicago and Orlando, Florida. Solita has a similar food menu, emphasizing tacos and Baja fare ($8-$24 at the Long Beach, California restaurant), and lists several Margaritas and specialty drinks. Standouts include the Spicy Piña, made with Espolòn Reposado Tequila, Crater Lake Hatch Green Chile vodka, muddled pineapple and mint, lime juice, and agave nectar (cocktails are $12-$37). Solita also offers domestic and imported beers ($6-$13 a bottle, can, or draft pour) and a well-edited wine list ($10-$21 a glass; $38-$125 a 750-ml.).
“As long as our guests continue to desire great drinks options, we’ll continue to innovate and focus on our bars and beverage programs,” Salvino-Prada says. “In our upscale concepts, wine continues to do well, with domestic wines providing the largest contribution. And in our casual concepts wine does well during happy hour and Sunday brunch. Wine consumption continues to grow, as some red varietals pair very well with Mexican cuisine. Beer continues to fare well too, especially the great Mexican lagers and ales, and when mixed into a spicy Michelada.”
The Las Brisas concept, which has just one restaurant on the waterfront in Laguna Beach, California, has one of Xperience’s most encompassing wine programs. The venue lists nearly 40 glass pours and an additional 30-plus bottled offerings ($12-$30 a glass; $45-$1,600 a 750-ml.), from Trimbach Riesling and Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay to Sanford Pinot Noir and Gaja Barbaresco. Las Brisas also has a creative cocktail list, with Xperience’s Margaritas and specialties alongside Spritzes and boba cocktails ($14-$39). Drinks include the Monarch Spritz, made with Butterfly Cannon Blue Tequila, Chareau Aloe liqueur, and elderflower tonic, and the Golden Child, a blend of Herradura Ultra Cristalino Tequila, Cointreau, mango, coconut syrup, lime juice, and mango popping boba.
Xperience’s restaurant portfolio also includes Acapulco Restaurant & Cantina, which has four locations around greater Los Angeles, Sinigual Mexican Cuisine in New York City, and Who Song & Larry’s Restaurant & Cantina in Vancouver, Washington. Each has its own roster of cocktails to complement Mexican food. “Each restaurant brand speaks to a different guest and explores a culinary region in Mexico,” Salvino-Prada says. “Our aesthetics aim to provide touches of authenticity, while taking inspiration from the many regions throughout Mexico. It’s an exciting part of our job, to deep dive into the history, culture, and cuisine of each region and find new ways to bring it to our restaurants.” Earlier this year Xperience made its first moves in Texas by purchasing the four-unit Rio Mamba Tex Mex y Mas concept and the two-unit The Rim Scratch Craft Eats.
After sales declined in 2020, Xperience Restaurant Group was back to gains last year. Sharpe says 2022 was the company’s second consecutive year of growth, and he adds that takeout sales remain strong at over 10% of revenue. Further expansion is in the works, too. The company has plans to both add more units to its existing concepts and introduce new ones, including a bar-focused venue this year.
“We spend a lot of time, energy, and money to create the right environment for each of our venues and to make them unique by brand,” Sharpe says. “We’re going to continue to innovate to stay on top of trends and keep the quality of our fresh products, which is really important to us. We’re passionate about Mexican cuisine, though that doesn’t mean we won’t dabble in other areas. We want to stick to what we know and what we know we can be great at.”