A restaurant chain with the flavors of Mexico, the relentless speed of the Big Apple and the fun-loving culture of the land Down Under is opening its first U.S. presence Thursday in Naperville.
Guzman y Gomez is scheduled to open at 6 a.m. at 1519 N. Naper Blvd., bringing its tacos, nachos, burritos and breakfast menu to America for the first time.
Known in Australia, where it started in 2006, as GYG, Guzman y Gomez thrives on fast service, "clean" food without added preservatives, artificial flavors or added colors, and a menu with regular or mini sizes to cater to all appetites and budgets, co-founder Steven Marks said.
Marks started GYG with fellow New York native Robert Hazan after discovering all the Mexican food he could find in Australia was "always horrible." He had moved to Australia three years earlier to build a hotel after running hedge funds, but soon found himself diving into the restaurant business to improve the taste and quality of Australian Mexican food.
"Like any good entrepreneur, you think you can do it better," Marks said.
The challenges of building a successful restaurant in Australia -- where fruit and vegetable prices are high and where customer loyalty is hard to build among a population of 24 million with an abundance of choices -- forced GYG to innovate, Marks said.
"We're just relentless -- that's where the New York part comes in," he said. "I'm relentless on food quality and culture."
The restaurant allows diners to customize the toppings on their orders of tacos, nachos, loaded fries or burritos, similar to how it's done in a Subway or Chipotle restaurant. But unlike Subway or Chipotle, Guzman y Gomez has a dual line to speed up the custom-creating process.
"We can go twice as fast," Marks said.
A team of eight staffers from the new Naperville restaurant trained in Australia for six weeks to learn the Guzman y Gomez processes and experience the culture firsthand. Now they're about to bring it to the suburbs in a restaurant and drive-through decorated with metals, woods, tiles, flowers, photos and murals.
"Everything you see at GYG is unique to GYG," Marks said. "We have nothing replicated or copied from any other brand. That's what makes it very special."
Guzman y Gomez searched for two years to find the perfect U.S. location to launch its concept. Market research proved the Chicago area would be the best to prove the brand ready for nationwide success, then Marks said, he fell in love with Naperville, which he said offers "this great cross-section of the U.S."