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Austin From Scratch: An Interview with Torchy

Austin From Scratch is our newest series on the blog and includes interviews with local entrepreneurs who have created a thriving business here in the heart of Texas.  For our inaugural session we sat down with Mike Rypka, aka Torchy, to talk about his inspiration for starting a taco stand, being a young comedian and Torchy’s world famous Green Chile Pork and Baja Shrimp Tacos.  As we discussed in a post earlier this month, Torchy’s is the inspiration for our upcoming AdVenture.

Owen (our six year old son)
What were your favorite things to do as a kid?

Torchy (Torchy’s founder, Mike Rypka)
I loved playing sports.  I played a lot of baseball and a lot of soccer.  What about you?

Owen
I mostly play soccer.  Actually, I play soccer and basketball.

Ok, question number two.  How did you go about learning as a child?

Torchy
I had some pretty smart parents who taught me a lot.  My mom was a journalist…a writer.  And my dad was a journalist photographer.  So they taught me a lot.  And I learned a lot in school.  I learned a lot through everyday life and friends and family.

Owen
When did you first know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Torchy
Probably when I was around 28, I really had the urge to start my own business.  One thing that makes a good entrepreneur is their mind is always thinking about good ideas.  And I’ve always been sort of a creative person.  One of the companies that inspired me is Starbucks.  I’ve always been intrigued how they changed the coffee industry.  It’s pretty amazing what they’ve done with coffee.

Owen
What is your favorite thing about being a business owner?

Torchy
That’s a good question.  I guess my favorite thing is I get to lead the ship.  In terms of making decisions…which can also be stressful as well…because they’re not always the right decisions and you have to take responsibility for them.  A lot of things start with you…and you have to be cognizant of the people who work for you.  You’re providing people’s meals and roofs over their heads so when you’re thinking about that you want to make the right decisions.  It can be a lot of responsibility.

Owen
What is the most challenging thing about being a business owner?

Torchy
Probably the most challenging thing is…when I first started, I probably worked 80 to 100 hours per week.  I would start at 5 or 6 in the morning and leave at midnight or 1:00 in the morning.  A lot of that’s got to do with the restaurant business and we’re open for so many hours.  Actually, probably the most challenging thing is also the most rewarding thing and that’s making the decisions. Especially when you’re new, every decision feels like it counts.  Even if it’s…where do the napkins go…..what sodas do you carry….what do you put in the tacos…and all of that.  Probably the last phase of a challenge for me as a business owner is learning how to delegate and trusting that people will do what you’d like them to do.

Owen
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the restaurant business?

Torchy
You know when I was a kid, I wanted to be a comedian.  I was a huge Bill Cosby fan and I liked to do stand up comedy for my parents.  And I would do impressions as well.

Around this time, our sweet little four year old girl (Malia) was getting restless so it was her turn to ask some questions.

Malia
Why did you make up this idea?

Torchy
The idea of tacos?

Malia
Yes

Torchy
I’ve lived in a lot of different cities and I always remember at least one or two places that’s were known for their local food…like in Philadelphia it’s a place called Pat’s and they’re known for great cheesesteaks.  One of the things I really wanted to do was have a real good street food place that was not too pretentious and was affordable where the food was really good.  So we figured we could do that with tacos and take it to the next level.  And hopefully we’ve done that with Torchy’s.

Paul
Absolutely!

Kathleen (my wife)
We love the tacos and we love the queso.

Torchy
What’s your favorite taco?

Owen
I like the breakfast taco with bacon and cheese.

Paul
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?  Owen and Malia, make sure you’re listening.  This part is important.

Torchy
Yep, Owen this is important for you because I see an entrepreneur in those eyes.  (Big smile on Owen’s face.)  My biggest advice would be to find something that you’re passionate about.  When you find that thing you can turn it into a business….because the amount of time and effort that you’re going to put into it, it’s gotta be something you love doing.

Lots of nodding heads around the table, interrupted shortly thereafter by Malia with an urgent question…

Malia
What is your favorite taco?

Torchy
My favorite taco?  I have two.  Can I have two?

Owen
Yes!

Torchy
The Green Chile Pork and the Baja Shrimp taco.  Those are my two favorite tacos.

Owen
Can I ask one last question?

Torchy
Of course…

Owen
Is it time for lunch yet?  (Laughs all around…)

How did you learn as a child?  Have you ever worked 100 hours in a week?  What’s your favorite taco from Torchy’s?

Next: Taco Wagon Success

Previous: How to Raise Your Kids to Be Entrepreneurs

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Alicia #

    Cute. I like their fried avocado taco. I’m barely even awake 100 hours in a week…much less working.

    June 28, 2012
    • Talk about dedication, huh? I enjoyed his point about making sure you have passion about your business…because you’ll spending a LOT of time with it.

      June 29, 2012
  2. Sally M. #

    Good questions Owen and Malia! I’m from the northeast and have had one of those cheesesteaks. Can’t wait to try Torchy’s if/when I get to visit Austin.

    June 28, 2012
  3. Nick #

    I think the best way I always learned as a child was through visual learning. Being able to look at examples always helped my a lot, so hopefully being able to interview some local entreprenuers will help owen and malia learn more. Pretty sure I have never worked 100 hours… 50 mas y menos a couple of times.

    June 28, 2012
    • I agree Nick. I think “real world” experiences are a great way to supplement all of the other methods of learning.

      June 29, 2012
  4. Tim C #

    my favorite taco is from Tacodeli!

    June 28, 2012
    • Lot of good options here in Austin. It would be interesting to hear how Tacodeli got up and running.

      June 29, 2012
  5. MR #

    I learned by memorizing stuff. Man, it was awful. Torchy sounds like a good dude. Sure makes tasty tacos.

    June 28, 2012
  6. Dave #

    Excellent post Paul. This is precisely how one can present the concept (in living form) of considering the path towards being an entrepreneur (whether you are a child or an adult). Even at my age (48), I have some dreams I still want to move forward with and love to see these types of success stories to energize me. Also, I used to be a field trainer in the Austin area and always made it a point to take the reps traveling with me to Torchy’s. It was always a positive experience (great queso as well).

    June 29, 2012
  7. Alexis #

    That interview was great. Nice questions Malia and Owen. They really were inspiring.

    Alexis

    June 29, 2012
    • Thanks Alexis. I’ll share your note with Owen and Malia. Hope to hear from you again 🙂

      June 29, 2012
  8. Katie #

    The Mr. Pink taco is the best in Austin — hands down. I can’t imagine working 80-100 hours in a week but can certainly appreciate the hard work it must take to get something like Torchy’s up and running. Good questions Owen and Malia!

    June 29, 2012

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