California Tortilla lets the tasters do the talking with free food

California Tortilla, a fast-casual Mexican restaurant, opened July 12 at Pineda Landings in Suntree.

The new California Tortilla restaurant opened July 12 at Pineda Landings in Suntree. Thousands were fed on opening day and the soft openings for friends and family in the days leading to the grand opening, when the first 10 people in line won free burritos for a year.

The Maryland-based fast-casual Mexican eatery is the second in Florida.

"The best marketing I can do is put our food in your mouth," said Dale Warden, who owns the 2,700-square-foot Suntree location at 6375 N. Wickham Rd. Warden also opened Florida’s first California Tortilla franchise in Kissimmee in February and plans to open franchises in Orlando and Tampa later this year.

A similar giveaway at the Kissimmee location’s grand opening attracted more than 1,000 people, Warden said.

"The next closest (California Tortilla) between here and Kissimmee is only 810 miles up Interstate 95," said Warden, a Lakeland resident. "We’re the second farthest away. The farthest away is a guy named Simon. He owns four stores in Qatar on the Persian Gulf. He has introduced Mexican food to the Arabs."

 "The taste is the first thing," Warden said. "I’m a foodie. I love fusion cooking, but in this we’re taking Mexican and fusing it with all kinds of great flavors. It’s just amazing. Then you go from that to the quality. It’s one thing to have good food. It’s another thing to have good quality that’s instilled in the system."

Customers can choose from a variety of chef-inspired creations such as the Korean BBQ burrito, with grilled Mesquite chicken, pork or steak, rice, fajita veggies, sweet and spicy Korean BBQ sauce, crisp slaw, sriracha chili sauce and cilantro. Diners can personalize their own burritos or bowls with their choice of meat, beef, blackened fish or vegetables, with a dozen add-ons including sour cream, bacon and fresh avocado.

For a spicier experience, customers can visit the restaurant’s Wall of Flame and choose from 75 hot sauces. Sides include a side salad, chips and queso and rice and beans. There’s a kids menu featuring pint-sized Mexican dishes that come with a drink, chips, queso or salsa and a dessert.

Warden said Brevard County’s pace of growth, its allure to engineers and retirees, and a favorable lease deal with Orlando-based real estate advisory firm and Pineda Landings developer Bishop Beale made the decision to open in Suntree an easy one.

"This is probably the best percentage of growth we’re going to get," Warden said. "There are really great opportunities here."

Hours for the Suntree location are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Warden said. The restaurant seats 69 people inside and 30 people outside. 

The location employs three full-time and 30 part-time workers, Warden said.

"We have been so overwhelmed by the quality we have found here in Brevard County," Warden said of his crew. "We did not have to go far to find really dedicated, qualified workers."