For the Love of Tacos and People: Standing Out in an Oversaturated Market

June Signature Luncheon Recap

The American Marketing Association Birmingham Chapter was happy to feature one of Birmingham’s most successful new brands, Taco Mama, at our June 21 luncheon. CEO Will Haver shared his philosophy on running a service organization, finding the right people, and marketing. We are pleased to share some of the insights that Will presented to a packed room at The Harbert Center. Will is also sharing his presentation here (post on AMA Bham LinkedIn).

Seek to Be the Best – Wherever You Are

Will Haver started his career cutting catfish at Ezell’s Catfish Cabin. He wasn’t planning a career in catfish prep, but he was already demonstrating the traits that would set him apart later in his career. While he was working at Ezell’s, he was determined to be the best catfish cutter in history.

Although it became increasingly clear that Will was unlikely to realize his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA, his time playing basketball gave him a passion for team success over individual success. He felt that opportunities in a service industry would provide a great platform for building world class teams that could work together in the pursuit of greatness. This led him to a place that is a long way from the NBA – Otey’s Tavern in Crestline Village.


Will purchased Otey’s, an established bar and restaurant in the Crestline Village area of Mountain Brook, AL. Otey’s had deep relationships with the community, and a reputation for customer service. Will worked every day to free up his team to focus on their greatest strengths. Whether it is the cook that knows more about running a kitchen than anybody else in Birmingham, or a team of servers that know how to build connections and delight clients, Will examined every aspect of service and operations to make sure that they were all positioned for success.

Otey’s continues to be a core part of Will’s vision, but he was eager to find new opportunities for growth so that he could carry his vision beyond a single location. This led him to create Taco Mama.

The Taco Mama Approach

Will Haver wanted to build a brand from scratch that had the potential for growth. He developed the Taco Mama concept based on 3 key pillars: food, people, and service.


High quality ingredients are critical. There is so much competition in the restaurant industry, and you really only get one chance with a customer. Taco Mama uses the freshest ingredients to ensure that the food is excellent for every customer. Having the right people, processes, and excellent service are critically important, but if your product stinks, it really won’t matter.


In a restaurant, the people that work for you will do more to build your restaurant’s image than a marketing program ever could. Taco Mama focuses on recruiting and retaining talented people. They pay their employees above the standard industry rates to make sure that the best service employees in the area want to join their team.

Will looks for employees that demonstrate the characteristics that he showed cutting catfish for Ezell’s years ago. Taco Mama employees must take full responsibility through work ethic and a passion for excellence, no matter what their role is.

Training is a priority that gets compromised in most restaurants, but Will believes that you can’t expect your employees to excel unless you have fully equipped them with all of the skills that they will need. They also treat their employees the way that they want them to treat customers. As Will says, “You have to love on your team so that they can love on your customers!”

Sometimes this love is demonstrated through praise, but it can also take the form of a tough conversation. It is critically important to inspect what you expect. If an employee isn’t measuring up, the most loving thing that you can do as a manager is to show them the opportunities for improvement, provide the resources for growth, and hold them accountable for their results. Avoiding the tough conversation is one of the main reasons that service organizations fail to develop a world-class team.


Will places a premium on going above and beyond for every client. He tells his team, “Don’t go the extra mile! Go the extra 3 miles!”

A child in one of his locations recently asked for ketchup. Ketchup isn’t a common request for their menu, so Taco Mama doesn’t keep that in stock. Instead of saying no, the server went next door to another restaurant to get some ketchup. The family was thrilled, and this led them to leave a big tip, a positive review, and to share their love for Taco Mama with many friends. Will took this opportunity to show his employee some love and demonstrate for the rest of the team how going above and beyond to provide excellent service benefits everyone on the team.

It’s All About…

The Taco Mama Marketing plan is built on the principles of service and authenticity rather than traditional advertising messages.

Make an Impact

Taco Mama focuses on building relationships and making a positive impact in their community. This community focus helps with recruiting employees and connecting with new customers.

Be Genuine

Modern customers admire authenticity. Catchy marketing messages have replaced genuine interactions, and this has created opportunities for brands that are committed to being real. Will learned the value of this honesty and authenticity early in his career at Otey’s. Customers would ask him to recommend the best thing on the menu, and his answer surprised them: “I stand by everything on the menu except for the Veggie Burger because it isn’t fresh and the shrimp… because I don’t like shrimp. Everything else qualifies as ‘best on the menu!’”

This honesty built trust, and it allowed Will and the Otey’s team to build deep, personal relationships with their clients.

Be a Giver

This is the heart of the Taco Mama marketing approach. They give back to the communities that have welcomed them. This helps employees feel good about their work, and it builds relationships with people that aren’t familiar with the brand. Will has seen time and time again that if you give first without expectation, the ROI will be there in the end.

Seamless Operations

It is impossible to deliver great food and great service without an excellent operational model. Processes must be simple so that your team can deliver consistently every time. Chick-fil-a is a great example of how excellence in operations enables a consistent experience for millions of customers across many locations.

Consistency in marketing means marketing every day. Marketing should be integrated into your operational model, or it will end up turning into a desperate scramble when business is slow. Effective marketing requires executing on attainable, coordinated actions every day to gradually build a customer base.

Marketing Strategies in the Birmingham Food Scene

The Birmingham restaurant market is especially competitive. Taco Mama applies the principles that Will shared in a variety of ways to stay ahead of the curve. For example, they have taken tacos to new businesses moving into their area. This builds positive relationships with their neighbors. Would the restaurant that provided the ketchup have been willing to help if Will’s team hadn’t gone above and beyond to be good neighbors? Probably not.

Social media has played an important role in their marketing success. Taco Mama focuses on posting something daily on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This is another area where authenticity becomes critically important. Will says that you must know yourself, your product and your market. You can’t be something to everyone, so be true to yourself. As you develop a strong pipeline of social media content, you must be willing to spend dollars to get results. Then measure the results to learn what people like and how many people you reached.

Do you have a Growth Plan?

Growth depends on you! Taco Mama has grown quickly without compromising quality, but it didn’t happen by accident. They have a detailed growth plan that aligns with the core principles that Will outlined in this talk. This has enabled them to build connections in new markets that aren’t familiar with the Taco Mama brand.

The Signature Luncheon Series

The American Marketing Association Birmingham Chapter hosts 10 luncheons per year featuring CEO’s and marketing executives from prominent Birmingham brands. Luncheons are held at The Harbert Center from 11:30am to 1pm on the 3rd Wednesday of each month. Visit our website for more information. Network with marketing professionals, and hear incredible insights from some of Birmingham’s business leaders.

We would like to thank Will Haver and Taco Mama for their time and the insight shared on June 21.

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