March 26, 2013
Chando's iPhone app: Mexican street food meets high-tech

Chando's app.JPG

When I heard that Chando's Tacos had launched a new iPhone app, it made me think of my favorite line from Lisandro "Chando" Madrigal when I reviewed his humble little place in February of 2011 - "We're high-tech Mexicans."

In fact, Madrigal was a successful employee in sales at Apple at the time he said that.

Since then, he left Apple to focus on Chando's, which has grown to two locations and a new custom-equipped 2013 model food truck (soon to hit the streets).

But Chando certainly hasn't turned his back on technology. I put the app through its paces recently for dinner, and it works like a charm - user-friendly and intuitive. We placed the order by scrolling through the options, paid with a credit card and made the quick trip to the Aden Way location. We didn't have to wait in line. We came, we saw, we left with tacos.

For a predominantly take-out operation, this app is the kind of thing that can help business - it makes the customer's life just a little easier.

Chando said he had been thinking of having an app custom made for Chando's, and figured that would cost $10,000 to $15,000 to pull it off. Then he came across a Southern California company called ChowNow, which can easily customize the app it already created.

"They approached us a while ago and really hyped me up because we want to be high-tech and stand out from the other restaurants and maximize the ability of what technology can do," he told me. "I thought, 'Hmm, this is cool. It's a start-up company, but they have their act together.'"

For about $100 a month for each of the two restaurants, Chando's makes use of the app and pays a processing fee for each transaction.

"The support is awesome," Chando told me. "You build the menu with them offline. Then there is a back-end system where you can make changes yourself. What sold me was the Facebook integration."

When you place the order via the app (or through Faceback if you like Chando's fan page), it rings like an old-fashioned phone at the restaurant, where a small display screen lists the order. After we placed our order, we received a message on our phone telling us the time the order would be ready.

If this sounds like it's a long way from the old-school street-food cooking you know and love at Chando's, it's because it is - but this is also 2013 and you've got to compete any way you can to get customers.

Chando says the Arden Way location is getting far more app orders than the newer Power Inn Road location.

"At Power Inn, we're dealing with a different client base, more blue-collar. Arden is more trendy. You get a lot of hipsters and they're using the heck out of it," he said.
This, ahem, hipster was impressed. Anything that lets us get our hands on that food faster and easier is a plus for us.

Only one drawback we could find: We ordered an "adobada tostada." That's much more fun to say than it is to click on a phone app.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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