Johnny Zela is the Chief Operating Officer at Condado Tacos. Zela is a 2022 Smart50 Award Winner and has built Condado Tacos into a premier taco brand specializing in build-your-own tacos, tequilas and margaritas. Leading Operations, Training, Off Premise and Beverage for this ‘taco and margs’ brand, Zela’s focus on driving sales with his management teams on a daily basis has fueled the success and growth of Condado Tacos into an ever emerging, NextGen full service, casual dining “taco joint.” Due in large part to Zela’s leadership, Condado Tacos was named ‘Breakout Brand of the Year’ by FSR magazine, made Fast Casual’s Top 100 Movers and Shakers, and most recently in 2023, was awarded ‘Breakout Retailer’ by Chain Store Age.
As a Day One employee in 2014, Zela partnered with Founder Joe Kahn to build the foundation for this restaurant company, starting with Condado’s first location in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus, OH, and growing to 41 locations in 15 markets and 8 states throughout the Midwest, Southeast and soon the Atlantic corridor. Condado Tacos has announced growth of up to 100 company owned and operated restaurants by 2026. After serving 4 years in the U.S. Navy, Zela began his hospitality career in 1996 as a dishwasher, and has worked in most aspects of restaurant operations. With his acumen and experience as a bartender, he has helped build Condado’s beverage business from the ground up, and beverage now comprises 35% of the company’s overall revenue.
Zela’s forte is in developing a deep level of engagement with his teams and is constantly setting the bar higher to accomplish and exceed company goals. An incredibly supportive leader, Condado Tacos’ operations team members believe in Zela and aspire to greater heights due to his commitment and in turn, his ability to get their full commitment. He keeps the wheels turning every day and is all about accountability, asks the right questions and is a true believer in his people coming first. According to Zela, “We constantly focus on our company culture. If our people are happy, our guests are happy.”
Case in Point: Fast forward to the start of the pandemic in early 2020. With restaurants forced to close its doors without warning, Zela and his Condado restaurant teams were put to the test, as they needed to transition almost overnight to all pickup and delivery “To Go” business. Thanks to Zela’s leadership and consistent focus on his people, it all paid off, keeping the company afloat until restaurants (and Condado Tacos) began to open again. Add to that, opening 4 new restaurants along the way in 2020, while most companies were closing down stores. This ultimately all turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Condado Tacos now has a viable Off Premise business that continues to grow significantly and break sales records on a quarterly and annual basis, serving as a major growth vehicle for the brand moving forward. In 2022, Condado’s off premise sales grew to over $47 million.
“Our mantra at Condado should be #Built Different because we just are,” says Zela. “We have an outstanding group of individuals at Condado Tacos who hold each other accountable and strive to constantly make the company better year over year.”
Under Zela’s direction, Condado’s beverage program growth is illustrated by the fact that in 2022, Condado Tacos served 2.1 million margaritas, an average of 8 margs per minute for the hours open.