Business profile: Dan Houghton and Eric Partaker of Chilango

By Paul Wooton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Mexican cuisine

Chilango founders Eric Partaker and Dan HoughtonPhoto: John Carey
Chilango founders Eric Partaker and Dan HoughtonPhoto: John Carey
Dan Houghton and Eric Partaker knew little about the restaurant industry before they set up Chilango. But that hasn¹t stopped them creating a thriving, award-winning brand

Dan Houghton and Eric Partaker knew little about the restaurant industry before they set up Chilango. But that hasn¹t stopped them creating a thriving, award-winning brand.

On the challenge of setting up a restaurant business with no experience:

“We thought we don’t need to have the perfect restaurant backgrounds we just need to be good coaches and get the right players in the team.”

On developing the Chilango brand:

“We’re still tinkering with how we express the brand, and we’ll probably do that with our first ten sites.”

On putting food quality at the heart of the business:

“Chilango’s success is founded on the quality of its food. Brand for us means food, people, place. That’s the Chilango holy trinity. All three are equally important, but food’s God.”

On the Chilango approach:

“We do things the old-fashioned way, by hand, in the restaurant. So the guacamole is made twice a day on-site, the avocados cut, stoned, flesh scooped out and mixed with lime juice, onion, salt and so on.”

On Mexican food’s potential in the UK:

“Out of all the countries in the EU, the British palate is by far the most ethnically developed. There are quite a lot of similarities between Indian food and Mexican food in terms of ingredients usage and spice profiles. So the palate’s there, it’s ready for it, and then if you look at the success of Nando’s, with more than 200 units across the country we think there’s similar potential for Chilango.”

On being the best not the biggest:

“We’re going to work on improving the food, the brand, the people. If we focus on that, we think great things will happen.”

On the coming of age of Mexican food in the UK and entrance of US chain Chipotle:

“We thought it was just a matter of time before Chipotle became global. We think it’s great. They’re validating the bet we placed three years ago. If you look at what happened in the mid-90s with coffee, Starbucks’ entry just helped ignite the growth of both Costa and Nero. The market’s quite big. Our investors are very happy that that’s happening.”

Eric Partaker timeline

1975 - Born, Chicago
2001 - Moves to Norway, having graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance
2001-2004 - Works in a variety of roles including serving as MD of a Norwegian non-profit organisation providing business advisory services to entrepreneurs
2005 - Joins Skype and meets Dan Houghton
2006 - Co-founds Chilango
2007 - Mucho Mas opens in Islington
2008 - Chilango opens in Fleet Street

Dan Houghton timeline

1977 - Born, London
1998 - Graduates from Cambridge with first class degree in mathematics
1998-2004 - Works in a variety of roles including video-games programmer and serves as CTO for Carbon Partners, a provider of mobile marketing and mobile content services. Also founds TextMagic, an automated text-messaging service
2005 - Joins Skype and meets Eric Partaker
2006 - Co-founds Chilango
2007 - Mucho Mas opens in Islington
2008 - Chilango opens in Fleet Street

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