Osiris Hoil’s success story exemplifies the classic American dream. Growing up in Yucatán, Mexico, in the small town of Tekax, Hoil sold popsicles and newspapers in the street to help his parents, who he described as poor farmers.
At age 16, Hoil moved to the United States and started worked in a restaurant as a dishwasher, rising quickly to assistant kitchen manager. There, he met a coworker who later became his wife and the mother of their three children. “I wanted to learn the language so badly just so I could date her,” Hoil said. “It took me three years, but I was persistent. I just felt that I knew what I wanted.”
Osiris Hoil, left, and Marc Wallace launched District Taco out of a hot dog cart in 2009 and grew the business to 14 restaurants with more than 300 employees throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In what seems like destiny, Hoil and his restaurant sweetheart, Jennifer, moved to the Washington, D.C., area in a house next door to Marc Wallace, a former aerospace engineer and tech start-up entrepreneur who would become Hoil’s business partner.
Hoil lost his job as a construction worker following the 2007-2008 financial crisis and was lamenting the loss to Wallace one day over a few beers, plus some chips and salsa Hoil had made. Wallace casually asked what his dream job would be, and Hoil said he’d like to open a restaurant and cook the food he grew up eating in Mexico.
“I said, ‘you’re a great cook, and I think it’d be something unique in the area,’” Wallace recalled. “There was good Tex-Mex I had in California and Texas, but I think people hadn’t really experienced real Mexican flavors that Osiris had from growing up in Yucatán.”
The idea to buy a food truck arose, which cost about $100,000 at the time. “But I didn’t have another job, and thought, if Marc is going to invest in me, maybe I should go with another option,” Hoil said. A hot dog cart which could be pulled behind a pickup truck only cost $20,000.
Instead of selling popsicles in the streets of Tekax, Hoil began selling breakfast tacos out of a cart in the streets of Rosslyn, Virginia, in July 2009. The full circle moment also marked the first challenge they had to overcome, since Hoil and Wallace had intended to roll the cart around Washington, D.C.—thus the name District Taco—but learned there were no permits available.
“We quickly turned tail and worked with Arlington County across the D.C. line to start offering our food in Arlington,” Wallace said.
Another issue arose when they realized the breakfast tacos didn’t sell well in the afternoons. Hoil started testing recipes that would later make up the menu at District Taco’s fast-casual restaurants. “The taco stand for me was my school,” Hoil said.
Hoil and Wallace opened the first brick-and-mortar District Taco the next year in Arlington, Virginia. They’ve since grown it to 14 restaurants with more than 300 employees throughout D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“The products come from my home, my mom’s recipes, the flavor, freshness, the atmosphere—all that culture I have in Mexico where everyone there is so nice to you, that’s what we bring into our restaurants,” Hoil said.
After streamlining the business as a result of the pandemic—which included developing a native app in a five-week timeframe and integrating in-store kiosks—the duo decided to expand the brand nationally and filed a franchise disclosure document in May 2022. It costs between $798,750 and $1.7 million to open a District Taco franchise, which averages 2,500 square feet.
“Our menu is simpler, AUVs are strong, and digital orders are strong at 65 percent, plus we’ve reduced our footprint in the restaurant,” Hoil said about changes made during COVID-19.
District Taco’s first franchisees, a group in the D.C. area led by Hicham El Abbassi and Isalmou Boussaa, signed a five-unit agreement with an option for 20 more in the Mid-Atlantic area, Wallace added. In August, the duo signed the lease for their first location in West Springfield, Virginia, which is slated to open this year. In September, they signed the lease for their second store in McLean, Virginia, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2023.
And in an underdog-style victory, Hoil hired the construction company that previously laid him off to build District Taco stores.
“One time I just called them and was like, ‘hey it’s me, remember me? I’ve got this project going on,’” Hoil said. “We’ve been building restaurants together since then. They’re great guys. Things do turn around sometimes.”
“When I left, I was an employee, sweeping floors and running projects for them,” Hoil added. “Now, we’re a multi-million-dollar client.”