A chat with the boss: Mad Mex’s Clovis Young- lessons from 10 years in Australia

Posted by Andrea Hogan on 23rd October 2017

Clovis Young, Founder of Mad Mex

Times are changing in Australia’s quick service Mexican sector with US chain, Taco Bell, soon set to make its third attempt at setting up shop in Australia.

Clovis Young, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mad Mex, a Mexican chain which has been operating in Australia for 10 years now, however says he is “not particularly concerned” about Taco Bell’s re-entry, but instead curious.

“I am curious and I do think it’s an interesting opportunity,” said Young when discussing Taco Bell with Australian Food News.

“And if you haven’t had a hangover and had a [Taco Bell] 7 Layer Burrito, you haven’t lived.”

Despite Young’s recommendation of a Taco Bell 7 Layer Burrito as a hangover cure, he is not particularly concerned about the chain’s return to Australia as he sees it in a different category to Mad Mex.

“What I will say is, we as a business, in our category, we are pushing on higher quality, better quality proteins, really super authentic flavours, so even more different and more differentiated from Taco Bell,” Young said.

Choosing to sell quality Mexican has always been a focus of Young’s, ever since he decided to establish Mad Mex 10 years.

Coming from a background as a Wall Street trader, Young had a dream to run a Mexican restaurant and moved to Australia to do it when Australia’s taste for Mexican in a state of flux.

“I came over here in 2002 and there was a big trend towards Thai food and there was a real appetite for spicy and that type of thing,” Young said.

“Mexican was the most popular international food, then Chinese came in and took over, then Thai food took over.

“What we found was, and my sense and my current belief is, that Australians are very picky and choosy, and have every right to be. The Mexican category died off because it was poorly executed and wasn’t healthy. So we knew we were going to bring a gourmet kind of offering and that you didn’t have to compromise quality just because you were short on time.”

Introducing Australians to black beans

Although Young may have found a type of Mexican food which had yet to be offered to Australians, it was not exactly a walk in the park introducing Australians to a new style of food.

“Early on people had never seen a black bean or knew what the product was, it was a steep learning curve and it was quite exotic,” Young said.

Despite the challenge, Young said a “universal love for Mexican” helped Mad Mex get off the ground.

“Because the yellow brick wall and the Taco Tuesday kit on the supermarket shelves have always been part of the culture there is a fundamental positivity towards Mexican culture that we increased but did not create,” Young explained.

“It took the first five years talking about healthy Mexican because everyone thought Mexican was bad for you when in fact it is really good for you, or it can be really good for you. “

Turning Mexican into healthy but enjoyable food Australians love

Young says when Mad Mex was first established he and his team spent a lot of time educating Australian CBD workers that Mexican food can be a healthy but enjoyable meal.

“We did a lot of that marketing in CBD locations among high frequency, corporate customers and once that message kind of got through to our customers we saw them respond because they were finally able to have something that was both really delicious and permissionable,” Young said.

“Before they could just have their diet lunch and they hated their diet lunch, but now the diet lunch turned out to be a real delicious lunch.”

Lessons learnt from ten years of running Mad Mex  

With Mad Mex open for ten years now, Young says he has learnt a lot about business in Australia, especially when it comes to how geographically large the country is and how that can impact business.

“I think Australia in particular is tough because geographically it is so spread out,” Young said.

“We have 60 restaurants in Australia. In America for example, you might have 60 restaurants in one state, but that is just a different kind of scale.

“We invested in an entirely cloud based infrastructure system and cloud based data recording so that everyone, regardless whether you are on your phone or an aeroplane, or working in one of the restaurants, you could have the same ability to get your work done and share and communicate and text message and Skype each other.”

Young says others looking to go into the QSR game should also consider how large they want their business to become when it comes down to restaurant numbers.

“Once question that comes up is “should I franchise my business?”, says Young.

“The answer I always have is that you are better off having three or four company-owned restaurants or 30 or 40 franchised businesses. But that space between starting out where you are and getting the scale that you want is the danger zone because you have to put in massive infrastructure and you have to get a marketing team, an operations team, a finance team. Before you know it your costs structure is significant.”

Future plans for Mad Mex

Young says moving into 2018 Mad Mex will continue to focus on providing high quality, health-focused foods for its customers.

“Our motto is ‘made in front of you, with you’ and trying to find more ways to share the stories of what we do, whether it’s importing products or if it’s making healthy choices for our customers. We have some product development happening as we move more towards that health space.”

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