La Fiesta Morton is a popular Tex-Mex restaurant chain based in Chicago, Illinois. The company was founded in 1989 by restaurateur Morton Johnson. Here are some quick answers about who owns La Fiesta Morton:
- La Fiesta Morton is privately owned by the Johnson family.
- Morton Johnson founded the company in 1989 and remains the majority owner.
- The company headquarters is located in Chicago, Illinois.
- La Fiesta Morton has over 50 restaurant locations in 5 states.
- The company employs over 2,000 people.
- La Fiesta Morton had estimated annual revenue of $180 million in 2022.
Company History and Origins
La Fiesta Morton was founded in 1989 by Morton Johnson in Chicago, Illinois. Johnson came from a family that was involved in the restaurant industry, owning several small family restaurants and diners. In the late 1980s, Johnson saw an opportunity to start a Tex-Mex restaurant chain, which was becoming a popular cuisine across the United States.
Johnson opened the first La Fiesta Morton restaurant in downtown Chicago in 1989. The restaurant quickly gained popularity for its fresh, authentic Tex-Mex dishes like fajitas, burritos, nachos, and margaritas. Within a few years, Johnson opened two more Chicago locations to meet demand.
The success of the first restaurants gave Johnson the capital needed to expand the chain beyond Illinois. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, La Fiesta Morton restaurants opened across the Midwest, including in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, and Minnesota. The company also expanded deeper into Illinois to open suburban Chicago locations.
International expansion came in the 2010s, with La Fiesta Morton opening locations in Canada and Mexico. However, the majority of restaurants have remained in the Midwest region of the United States.
Morton Johnson’s Role
As founder of La Fiesta Morton, Morton Johnson has served as owner, President, and CEO of the company for over 30 years. Johnson came up with the restaurant concept and created many of the Tex-Mex recipes still used today.
Under Johnson’s leadership, La Fiesta Morton has grown from a single restaurant to a regional chain with over 50 locations. He has guided the company’s strategic expansion while preserving its family-owned roots. Johnson remains the majority shareholder of La Fiesta Morton’s privately held stock.
Now in his 70s, Johnson has brought his children and other family members into executive and managerial roles at La Fiesta Morton. His son James Johnson serves as Vice President and is expected to eventually succeed his father as head of the company.
La Fiesta Morton is a privately held company, meaning its stock is not traded publicly on any stock exchanges. Here is an overview of the ownership structure:
- Majority owner: Morton Johnson (approx. 60% ownership stake)
- Minority owners: Johnson family members (approx. 30% ownership combined)
- Employees: Select long-time employees have earned small ownership stakes (approx. 10% combined)
Morton Johnson maintains majority control of the company he founded. However, in recent years he has allowed some equity to be distributed to family members active in the business, such as his son James Johnson. A small percentage of ownership has also been granted to loyal employees who have worked for La Fiesta Morton for over 20 years.
Plans for Future Ownership
Morton Johnson has indicated that ownership of La Fiesta Morton will stay within the Johnson family for the foreseeable future. Here are some expected future ownership plans:
- Morton Johnson plans to transfer some of his ownership stake to his son James Johnson, who serves as Vice President.
- Other active family members may also be gifted small ownership stakes in coming years.
- No plans to sell the company or take it public through an IPO.
- La Fiesta Morton expected to remain family-owned for at least the next decade under James Johnson’s leadership after his father steps down.
Keeping La Fiesta Morton privately owned allows the company to focus on long-term goals and maintain its unique culture and values. The Johnson family has expressed commitment to independent ownership for many years to come.
Financial Performance and Valuation
As a private company, La Fiesta Morton does not disclose detailed financial results publicly. However, some estimated performance metrics and valuation details can be determined from available data:
- Estimated 2022 revenue: $180 million
- Estimated 5-year revenue growth rate: 8% per year
- Restaurant-level operating profit margins: 18% – 22%
- Highly cash generative business model
- Consistent, steady profits used to fuel expansion
- Estimated overall company valuation: $400 – $500 million
- Valuation metrics: 2.5x – 3x revenue, 25x – 30x operating profit
La Fiesta Morton has delivered consistent revenue and profit growth historically. The company has an attractive financial profile as a mature restaurant chain with significant cash flow and expansion potential ahead. Its strong Midwest footprint and customer loyalty support continued prosperity.
Impact on Customers and Employees
La Fiesta Morton’s privately held, family-owned status has positively impacted both customers and employees over the years:
- Focus on quality over quick profits – not beholden to shareholders
- Consistency across locations – family ownership provides stability
- Community-focused approach in each market
- Loyal customer base has supported growth for 30+ years
- Culture focused on people, relationships vs. transactions
- Low turnover – many long-time employees
- Opportunities for training, growth, profit sharing
- Higher job satisfaction working for trusted family owners
The Johnson family’s continued hands-on ownership enables La Fiesta Morton to retain the feel of a local restaurant even as the company has grown to a 50+ location regional chain. Its independence allows for a customer and employee experience differentiated from large corporate chains.
Future Expansion Plans
La Fiesta Morton expects to continue expanding in coming years, though at a measured pace aligned with family ownership. Planned future expansion efforts include:
- Open 2-3 new restaurants per year in existing Midwest markets
- Expand metro Chicago presence with more suburban locations
- Grow further in secondary Midwest markets like Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio
- Open more non-traditional formats like airport restaurants
- Consider expanding into 1-2 new major metro markets outside current territory
The company does not plan to grow as aggressively as some private equity-backed chains. However, the family sees room to expand La Fiesta Morton’s footprint modestly while retaining quality. New restaurants will only be opened as fast as capable management talent can be developed internally.
Rationale for Measured Expansion Pace
La Fiesta Morton’s conservative growth plans stem from the family’s long-term perspective and commitment to preserving company culture. Rapid overexpansion could water down the customer experience. Going public or selling would also jeopardize family stewardship.
The Johnsons view La Fiesta Morton as a generational family asset to be protected. They take a patient, prudent approach to growth to ensure each new restaurant upholds the brand’s standards. While they could expand faster by accepting outside capital, they prioritize quality and consistency for the long run.
Competitive Position in Industry
La Fiesta Morton is well positioned competitively despite its smaller size compared to giants like Chipotle and Moe’s Southwest Grill:
- Strong brand awareness and loyalty in core Midwest markets
- Growing niche player nationally in Tex-Mex segment
- 33 straight years of positive same-store sales growth
- Industry-leading 18% average unit volumes of $1.6 million
- Vertically integrated supply chain controls costs
La Fiesta Morton focuses intensely on its core markets, achieveing unmatched local scale and familiarity. The company does not overextend itself geographically, instead solidifying each market before moving into new areas. This disciplined approach has allowed La Fiesta Morton to thrive as an independent regional player among much larger chains.
Regional Brand Loyalty
The Johnson family has cultivated feverent brand loyalty across La Fiesta Morton’s Midwest footprint. With 30+ locations in metro Chicago alone, the company has become many customers’ top choice for Tex-Mex, especially loyal diners seeking Consistent favorites.
This regional dominance and customer affinity would make La Fiesta Morton an attractive acquisition target for a larger chain looking to expand into its territories. However, the Johnsons have no plans to sell. They recognize that independence and family stewardship are key to preserving loyal customers’ trust.
For over 30 years, La Fiesta Morton has thrived as a privately held, family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant chain. Founded and still led by Morton Johnson, the company has grown steadily to over 50 locations while retaining its local roots.
The Johnson family plans to keep ownership within the family for the foreseeable future. They take a prudent approach to expansion that prioritizes quality and consistency over rapid growth. La Fiesta Morton’s regional dominance and loyal customer base position it well to continue prospering as an independent brand.
The company’s privately held status has benefited customers, employees, and the Johnsons themselves. It enables a focus on long-term success rather than short-term profits. La Fiesta Morton stands out as a one-of-a-kind family restaurant chain amid larger corporate competitors.