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Michael Rypka of Torchy’s Tacos talks Expansion and Secret Menu

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- First, a lesson from Evan LeRoy of Freedmen’s Bar on what a properly smoked brisket looks like: <blockquote class="twitter-tweet">Perfectly cooked brisket <a href="https://t.co/PDIpksEQ6o">https://t.co/PDIpksEQ6o</a> — Evan LeRoy (@evanleroy) <a href="https://twitter.com/evanleroy/statuses/395311873765441536">October 29, 2013</a></blockquote>   - Barbecue & Blues was held in New York at last week’s New York City Wine & Food Fest. Here’s <a href="http://www.thrillist.com/eat/new-york/14-new-york-city-barbecue-recipes-you-need-to-stuff-your-face-with" target="_blank">a photo wrap-up</a> of the multiple barbecue entries from NYC BBQ joints.  - The <a href="http://tmbbq.com/events/tmbbq-fest-2013/" target="_blank"><em>Texas Monthly BBQ Festival</em></a> takes place this Sunday in Austin. Join this <a href="http://www.reddit.com/r/Austin/comments/1pesyx/texas_monthly_bbq_festival_is_this_weekend_which/" target="_blank">discussion on Reddit </a>to argue which joints you think are worth standing in line for.  - Also this weekend in Austin, Wyatt McSpadden will have <a href="http://tmbbq.com/?p=7689 Micklethwait" target="_blank">a gallery opening</a> of barbecue photographs. Featured will be many of the terrific images he shot for the recent <em>Texas Monthly</em> BBQ issue, along with a number of his "classic" BBQ photographs.  - Micklethwait Craft Meats in Austin is undergoing a much needed expansion to their tiny parking lot this week. <iframe src="//instagram.com/p/gBxiGJsJmz/embed/" height="557" width="480" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe>   - Back Porch BBQ in La Grange is <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=667019190005516&l=182c1c11bd" target="_blank">closed this week</a> for remodeling. They will reopen on 11/2.  - The store <a href="http://bbqnewsroom.com/barbeques-galore-buyout/" target="_blank">Barbeques Galore</a> was in financial trouble, and has now been bought out.  - Zagat released their list of <a href="http://www.zagat.com/b/texas-barbecue-roundup" target="_blank">30 must try BBQ joints</a> in Texas. Sure I’d make some changes, but they at least did some research.  - There are <a href="http://m.smh.com.au/travel/activity/food-and-wine/a-hunger-for-travel-top-20-foodie-experiences-20131023-2w0sl.html" target="_blank">20 restaurant experiences</a> in the world that the Sydney Morning Herald says are a necessity for foodies. Franklin Barbecue in Austin is one of them.  - Schmidt Family Barbecue opened this week in Bee Cave. Carrying on the tradition from Kreuz Market who started their first fire from the coals at Smitty’s, Schmidt Family had coals trucked in from Lockhart: <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> The coals from Kreuz & Smitty's have been placed. Burn On! <a href="http://t.co/HHhojDqSgF">pic.twitter.com/HHhojDqSgF</a> — Schmidt Family BBQ (@SchmidtBBQ) <a href="https://twitter.com/SchmidtBBQ/statuses/393777940774662144">October 25, 2013</a> </blockquote>   - Schmidt Family Barbecue had a soft opening last Friday night, and Full & Content provides <a href="http://fullandcontent.blogspot.com/2013/10/schmidt-family-barbecue-opens-today-in.html" target="_blank">a full report here</a>.  - The line started early when they opened for real on Monday morning: <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> You know you have gotten in line early for <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23bbq&src=hash">#bbq</a> if you beat the bread truck <a href="https://twitter.com/SchmidtBBQ">@SchmidtBBQ</a> <a href="http://t.co/mtUkOMHKEB">pic.twitter.com/mtUkOMHKEB</a> — Jacob Reach (@jacobreach) <a href="https://twitter.com/jacobreach/statuses/394802459513597953">October 28, 2013</a> </blockquote>   - <a href="http://thesmokingho.blogspot.com/2013/10/schmidt-family-barbecue.html" target="_blank">The Smoking Ho</a> provided a short review almost immediately after Schmidt Family Barbecue opened on Monday. - The confederate flags that once flew famously over Maurice’s Piggie Park locations in South Carolina <a href="http://www.thestate.com/2013/10/25/3059683/2nd-generation-at-maurices-bbq.html" target="_blank">are now all gone</a>. The younger generation of the family no longer wants to be associated with the politics of founder Maurice Bessinger. I also found<a href="http://porktheoneyoulove.blogspot.com/2012/01/colbert-interviews-bessinger.html" target="_blank"> this great interview</a> of Maurice Bessinger by Stephen Colbert regarding Confederate Memorial Day from a decade ago. - Go Carnivore did a <a href="http://gocarnivore.com/2013/10/30/barbecue-wild-hog-vs-domestic-hog/" target="_blank">side-by-side tasting</a> of smoked pork shoulders - one from a domestic hog and one from a wild hog. - <a href="http://m.postandcourier.com/article/20131026/PC16/131029437&template=mobile_story" target="_blank">Cook it Raw went to Charleston</a>, South Carolina this year and held a <a href="http://www.cookitraw.org/?page_id=1058" target="_blank">BBQ Perspectives event</a> last Saturday. The menu included “smoked ossabaw hog stuffed with Carolina red rice; suckling pig tacos and a pig head lowcountry boil.” - For some great photos of the Cook it Raw event from photographer Robert Strickland: <blockquote class="twitter-tweet">Me, my camera, & <a href="https://twitter.com/cookitraw">@cookitraw</a>: <a href="http://t.co/i8pcCzxi7D">http://t.co/i8pcCzxi7D</a> (<a href="https://twitter.com/rodneyscottbbq">@rodneyscottbbq</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/enriqueolvera">@enriqueolvera</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/nectarmerida">@nectarmerida</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/AprilBloomfield">@AprilBloomfield</a>) <a href="http://t.co/HmCacgw6fL">pic.twitter.com/HmCacgw6fL</a> — Robert Strickland (@rlstrickland) <a href="https://twitter.com/rlstrickland/statuses/395279579763322880">October 29, 2013</a></blockquote>   - Josh Ozersky describes what you can expect from <a href="http://austin.eater.com/archives/2013/10/24/josh-ozersky-on-san-antonio-restaurant-survival-tactics-and-updating-the-beefsteak.php" target="_blank">Meatopia Texas</a> this weekend in San Antonio. Tickets are still available to the event on Sunday if you didn’t get into the <em>Texas Monthly BBQ Festival</em>. - It’s not quite BBQ, but we have a soft spot for meat stuffed into casings. Chris Reid shares some great photos of the <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/houstonfoodie/sets/72157637019604426/" target="_blank">Boudin Festival</a> in Lafayette, Louisiana. - <a href="http://www.fsrmagazine.com/f-and-b/smoky-flavors-go-beyond-meat" target="_blank">Smoked foods are popping up</a> all over in grocery stores and on chef’s menus. Jason Dady (owner of Two Bros. BBQ in San Antonio) discusses how he uses smoke on the menus of his other restaurants. - The Salt Lick has added a new menu item: <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23BBQ&src=hash">#BBQ</a> genius from <a href="https://twitter.com/SaltLickBBQ">@SaltLickBBQ</a>. cc: <a href="https://twitter.com/BBQsnob">@bbqsnob</a> @tmmbbq <a href="http://t.co/vv6ebl7pAM">pic.twitter.com/vv6ebl7pAM</a> — Don Willett (@JusticeWillett) <a href="https://twitter.com/JusticeWillett/statuses/393430710695903232">October 24, 2013</a></blockquote>   - The Texas drought closes yet another beef processing plant in West Texas. Last year it was Planview. <a href="http://beefmagazine.com/blog/cargill-closure-announcement-how-much-can-industry-afford" target="_blank">Now it’s Lockney</a>. - 100 teams competed in this year’s <a href="http://wtvr.com/2013/10/28/cool-smoke-wins-jack-daniels-world-championship-invitational-barbecue/" target="_blank">Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational Barbecue</a> last weekend. The winner was Cool Smoke led by Tuffy Stone of BBQ Pitmasters fame. - Kat Kinsman shared what she learned about competition barbecue from judging The Jack over the weekend. I’d have to agree on <a href="http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2013/10/28/competitive-barbecue/" target="_blank">every point she made</a>, although I’ve never had a manicure.   <p style="text-align: center"><a href="http://928ou1qrl07rlu0w2sh2c8pq.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cow-Tunnel.jpg"><img class=" wp-image-7712 aligncenter" alt="Cow Tunnel" src="http://928ou1qrl07rlu0w2sh2c8pq.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cow-Tunnel-1024x512.jpg" width="560" height="279" /></a></p> - So, there are <a href="http://gizmodo.com/the-lost-cow-tunnels-of-new-york-city-1455215193?utm_campaign=socialflow_gizmodo_twitter&utm_source=gizmodo_twitter&utm_medium=socialflow" target="_blank">tunnels under Manhattan</a> that were once used to get cattle to the slaughterhouse. At least there might be tunnels. - Meathead explores some factors that affect how long it takes <a href="http://amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/cooking_time.html" target="_blank">to cook meat </a>including humidity, altitude and meat thickness. - Looking for some good quality meat to throw in the smoker? The Daily Meal has ranked the <a href="http://www.thedailymeal.com/america-s-25-best-butcher-shops/102413" target="_blank">25 best butcher shops</a> in the country. Houston’s Revival Market is the only Texas representative. - This<a href="http://sidedish.dmagazine.com/2013/10/25/this-brisket-chart-is-pretty-cool-thanks-barbecue-snob/" target="_blank"> brisket chart </a>is a blast from the past that was just resurrected by D Magazine last week. - A <a href="http://modernfarmer.com/2013/10/demystifying-usda-meat-grades/" target="_blank">simple and beautiful explanation of beef grading</a> from Modern Farmer.

Torchy’s Tacos is quickly making the rounds in Texas. The taco madness all began at a small trailer in Austin. That little trailer helped sprout several brick-and-mortar locations. Over time, Torchy’s grew and is now exploding onto the Dallas and Houston culinary scenes. The taco establishment seems to be opening a new location every month and shows no signs of slowing down. So what’s the secret behind the restaurant’s statewide success? Michael Rypka, founder and executive chef of Torchy’s Tacos, says it’s the restaurant’s commitment to honoring the local Austin roots that helped the business grow from the very beginning. Rypka chatted with TEXAS MONTHLY about the unique growth of Torchy’s Tacos, resisting any and every urge to franchise, and his upcoming plan to create a “secret” menu for all his diehard taco fans. Michael Rypka in front of the trailer that started it all. Photo taken by Cort McPhail. What made you know it was time to go to Houston? The main reason was that we had a lot of customer requests asking us to be out there. We also have a lot of requests to have more stores in Dallas as well. I should mention Dallas is the main focus of our future expansion. We’re headed that way in the next six to nine months. Why is Dallas the main focus? Again, it’s all customer requests. Dallas is our most popular area outside of Austin. We picked up, headed out there, and decided to see what would happen, and so far everything is going really great. We want to keep that up. A lot of restaurants shy away from expanding into other cities in fear that the quality of their cuisine might go down. How do you guys handle that? It has a lot to do with training and hiring people that have the same vision as you. We put them through rigorous interviews and training when they join our team. I’ve been in the restaurant business my entire life. I’ve never not done anything but restaurants. It’s in my blood, and it’s something I’ve always been around. I know what works and I know what doesn’t work. I think that’s what has kept us so successful all these years. I know you are opening a second location in Houston soon. Are you going to stop at two locations in Houston and then focus on Dallas? What’s your plan? I would imagine that we would explore more locations in Houston if the second one does as well as the first. What I’m really most excited about is next month we’ve got the SMU location opening in Dallas. I think that’s going to be a really great store for us. Tell me about the differences you see between the Houston, Dallas, and Austin culinary markets. Good food is good food. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what city you are in – you know it when you taste it. I hope we do well in all of the cities we’re in. I think the culture in Austin, being such a locally focused culture, has really helped us expand over the years. We’ve tried to maintain those roots in our organization. That’s why I won’t ever franchise. I like keeping it privately held and staying involved in the day-to-day business. Where do you draw culinary inspiration from for your tacos? I’m the chef of the company. A lot of the inspiration comes from me. Sometimes it’s that I have a dish at a restaurant somewhere that’s really great and it sparks an idea. It might be a suggestion from an employee or customer and that sparks an idea. Sometimes it’s just me sitting around at night and something hits me upside the head and I go and make it. It is all pretty random most of the time, which is good. I think if you try to force creativity it never turns out well. This is going to be an unfair question, but which of your tacos is your personal favorite? That’s not unfair. My two favorites are the green chile pork and the baja shrimp. Austin’s culinary scene has really evolved in just a few short years. Where do you see the city and yourselves going in the future? I hope we’ll be around for years to come. There are a couple of stores we’re going to be opening in the outlying ares of Austin in the future. Again, that’s from customer requests. I think we need to keep staying on our game. One thing we do right now is our taco of the month, which I think keeps things fresh and new. I’m working on a secret menu that will just be for the people who are really in-the-know about Torchy’s. I hope the menu will eventually get out there and more people will learn about it. I don’t know if you know this, but In-N-Out Burger has an animal style burger that’s not on their menu, but a lot of people know about it. We want to do something like that. I think when you do that kind of thing it keeps people interested in everything you do.

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