Frisco Burritos is quenching cravings

California-inspired Mexican restaurant gaining a following

Small business

July 10, 2000|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Adam Carton eats an average of 14 burritos a week. It's a diet for success.

Carton, 31, is the owner of Frisco Burritos, a California-style Mexican restaurant with locations in Towson and now Columbia. He's also one of the restaurants' best customers.

"I love being able to eat burritos all the time," Carton said.

The business has brought Carton more than just a few free meals.

Though he did not disclose sales figures for either of his stores, Carton said sales at the Towson store grew about 28 percent after the first year, 11 percent after the second year and another 26 percent the year after that.

Sales at the Columbia store are already surpassing Towson's numbers, although that restaurant opened a month ago. "It turned out to be better that I ever thought it would," he said.

And it all started with a craving.

Carton, who grew up in Columbia, always wanted his own business, but didn't know what kind. After graduating from Penn State in 1992, where he was an NCAA champion on the rings and the vault in 1991, Carton spent two years in Aspen, Colo., snowboarding and waiting tables, then moved back to earn his MBA at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"The whole time I was in [business school], I was trying to think of a business that I would enjoy running," he said. "And at the same time, I really wanted a burrito."

Carton had first sampled the California-style burritos on the streets of San Francisco. He worked there for two summers during and after college as a mover, and would stop at least once a day at the burrito shops, which, to Carton at least, seemed to be everywhere. "I worked up a pretty big appetite," he recalled, "and that's where the burritos came in."

But when it came time to mingle his appetite for burritos with his appetite for business, a string of retail landlords turned him down - because, Carton suspects, of his lack of experience and financial backing.

Finally, Carton found an 800-square-foot store in Towson that a renter agreed to sublet. The restaurant opened in May 1996 with three employees, including Carton, who cooked, washed dishes, worked the register and learned the business.

Carton's craving for burritos caught on, and customers stood shoulder-to-shoulder waiting in the cramped restaurant for their lunches. So he expanded the business in May 1999 to 1,300 square feet, adding a dining room.

In June, he expanded again, opening a 2,300-square-foot store in the Lakeside retail center in Columbia. Now Frisco Burritos' two stores employ 12 people, and there are plans to hire three or four more.

Both stores are open seven days a week, serving burritos to thousands of customers - including Carton and his wife, who works in Columbia and eats lunch at the restaurant. Carton also brings burritos home for dinner two orthree times a week.

Last month, Ted Crowe sat outside the Columbia location and sunk his teeth into a chicken and bean burrito, the restaurant's most popular item. It was the fourth time in two weeks that Crowe, who works in Ellicott City and is originally from California, had eaten at Frisco Burritos.

"It's probably the tastiest burrito I've had in a while," said Crowe.

Carton obviously relates. "Some people have the same cravings as I do," he said, "fresh beans and rice."

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