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This Once-Popular Restaurant Chain Is Making a Comeback After 15 Years

The Tex-Mex chain is turning a corner with a much-improved menu.

It's a new era for On The Border, a Tex-Mex chain whose sales have been dwindling for years.

The once-popular Texas-based dine-in chain has been plagued by issues caused by cost-cutting measures: from the ground beef (not enough flavor!) to the tortillas (why don't these taste fresh?), food quality was affected across the board. And customers started to notice.

According to Restaurant Business, from 2006 to 2021, sales at On The Border shrunk more than 36%, while its footprint dropped 17% to a mere 125 locations, according to Technomic Ignite data. Things weren't looking good for the 40-year-old chain, and something had to be done.

On The Border took action during the pandemic, hiring a new C-suite, including CEO Tim Ward and CFO Bruce Vermilyea—both of whom made immediate changes. The chain took a good, hard look at its menu and started making improvements. It added fat and flavor to the beef; launched non-Mexican items such as burgers and pizzas; streamlined more complicated items like its salads; introduced more than 20 new items like the popular Smokehouse Fajitas and the Honey Chipotle Shrimp Tacos; and brought back the made-on-site tortillas.

Additionally, On the Border now boasts a brand new website, an easy-to-use online ordering system, and a digital waitlist that sends a text message to guests when their tables are ready. Repeat customers are rewarded with Border Rewards and the Queso Club subscription program ($1 plus the price of a single bowl of queso gets members free queso for an entire year when dining in).

And all of these major efforts paid off. For the first time in 15 years, On The Border is on course to record positive annual sales, and it's expanding to new locations including Anchorage, Alaska.

"This is an exciting time for everyone at On The Border," Ward says. "After a challenging year in the restaurant industry, we continue to prove that On The Border is a best-in-class brand with staying power."

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Read more about Danielle