We had the good fortune of connecting with Clayton Wheeler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Clayton, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I love the challenge of putting together the many pieces to make something work. From building forts and skateboard ramps as a kid to growing up in the restaurant industry loving the interaction with guests and co-workers, it seemed only natural to figure out how to put the pieces of a restaurant together from scratch. My business partner Craig Applegate and I shared a dream of opening our own restaurant and Casero Taqueria gave us that opportunity. It has had its challenges, especially in COVID times, but we have been able to adapt and navigate well and continue to grow the business.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Craig and I started Blacktop Restaurant Group seven years ago by becoming the first franchisee of Board & Brew. At the time it was a big step since Board & Brew was new to the franchise world. It was a great way for us to kickstart our restaurant careers since we didn’t have to create a menu and were able to focus on operational efficiencies and guest and team member experience. This is where we truly thrived and it wasn’t long after our first that we realized we wanted to open a few more locations. We since have opened a Board & Brew every year, adjusting strategies and building our team to keep up with the speed at which locations were opening. It was extremely challenging going from 2-3 and 3-4 locations but by the 4th we started to get in a rhythm and figure out how to best operate a multi-unit operation. We took these skills and honed in on our own concept Casero Taqueria, a full service bar and restaurant where we developed everything from the menu to decor. Through opening Casero we learned just as much in our first 6 years operating our other restaurants what challenges come from starting from scratch. And needless to say it has been the most rewarding. We have come a long way in our first year of business and the food continues to improve daily. Never settling, we are constantly adjusting our menu, adding seasonal specials, updating wine lists, and focus heavily on our tequila and mescal programs. It has been a lot of work but is most rewarding when you see our regular guests excited to be back at Casero to enjoy another taco and marg! Along the way, Craig and I learned to use each others strengths, and trust in our team (with the proper training) to execute their role at the highest level. We absolutely could not build this company by ourselves and trusting in our General Managers, our VP of Operations Jimmy Maldonado, and our Regional Manager Andre Ortiz is what keeps the company moving forward!
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
If a friend was visiting the area and I wanted to show them around I would start with an early morning coffee at Iron Smith in Encinitas. We would follow it up with a surf somewhere in Cardiff and then grab a donut at VG’s or a breakfast burrito from Pipes. Next, Id take them skydiving at Skydive San Diego (a hobby of mine) to get the adrenaline going. Golf Torrey Pines, surf Blacks Beach, and then head back North for dinner. Options are endless! Fish 101, Campfire, Buena Forchetta are a few of my top favorites.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Throughout my career and building Blacktop Restaurant Group with my business partner Craig Applegate, we have both been surrounded by so many incredible mentors who have turned into lifelong friends. Its hard to know where to start but I got my restaurant roots from Del Mar Pizza with owner/ mentor Bob Fleet who provided me with so many learning opportunities at a very young age. Bob has continued to believe in our passions since day one and pushed us to keep charging ahead with our vision…and his great advice! Next, Thadius Benshoof from Rimels Bar & Grill. Thadius is as genuine a person you’d ever meet, always connecting people who could work well together and helping communities benefit from one another. Thad is good for a friendly surf, or if you have an emergency board meeting and need his input! I was introduced to John Zagara at Urban Plates through Thad. What started out as a simple introduction of like minded restauranteurs turned into something greater. As busy as John is building Urban Plates he still takes the time to reach out and make sure we are staying on the right path and offering us some much needed advise to navigate restaurant challenges. And we cant forget our parents. They never waiver in their confidence in us and support us endlessly to tackle our dreams. The list goes on and we are very grateful for everyone who has helped, influenced, and guided us along the way.
Website: caserotacos.com and/or boardandbrew.com
Instagram: @caserotacos @boardandbrewsd
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/caserotacos https://www.facebook.com/boardnbrew