Passion Project, Taco Passport, Supports Local Businesses and Raises Funds
The goal is to raise money for charities and increase traffic to locally owned businesses
A Taco Passport is coming to Denver with two-for-one deals from 20 taquerias spread throughout the city. But it's more than just a foodie fad. The brainchild of Kevin Johns and Ben Raznick, $15 from each of the $20 booklets will go directly to the Food Bank of the Rockies, Lázaro Project and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. Comparable to the Denver Passport, the Taco version will serve as a map to some of the best bites in town.
The brochure features eateries including Comal, El Jefe and Comida, as well as a handful of food trucks. According to Johns, the founding team was pleasantly surprised by the interest from eateries, with positive feedback for the first-time project. He says South Broadway's Adelitas shared that "participating in the Taco Passport is a great way for us to introduce Adelitas to some people that maybe haven't dined with us before, while supporting local charitable organizations."
ColoradoBiz enjoyed a quick back-and-forth about the Taco Passport with Johns recently.
Check it out:
CB: Describe your professional background?
KJ: "I have an MBA in International Business and always have been passionate about both startups and charities. Currently I work in the biotech industry as a headhunter.
My partner on the project, Ben Raznick is a professional pianist, piano and Spanish teacher. He founded the charity, Lázaro Project, which funds the Denís Martinez school on Zapatera Island, Nicaragua, providing educational materials and supplemental meals to their students.
What was the spark of inspiration for you to launch a Taco Passport in Denver?
Ben [Raznick] and his husband, Shawn Johnson, who is treasurer on the Board of Directors of Lázaro Project, were out enjoying dinner with a buy-one-get-one coupon, when Shawn suggested that we could apply the same concept as a way to create a sustainable annual income for our charity while partnering with other nonprofits with truly worthy causes in the Denver area.
Cut to Ben and I on an impromptu Saturday afternoon “Taco Crawl” and so many of the restaurants and food trucks we were stopping at had incredible staff and delicious food and we thought this could be the perfect partnership. Everyone loves tacos, we’ve dedicated an entire weekday to honor them … hello Taco Tuesday; and the businesses that we’ve partnered with are serving amazing tacos! Lázaro Project’s roots in Nicaragua go back 14 years, and it was important, if possible, to take the opportunity here in Denver to find a way to build a relationship with our local Latino family. We’re very glad that we did and the immediate willingness from participating business owners has been an affirmation that we’re going to be able to have the impact we’d hoped for.
After Lázaro Project obtained 501(c)(3) status, we decided to expand our impact and responsibility by integrating ourselves into our local Denver community by providing back-to-school educational supplies: Book bags, notebooks, pens, pencils, etc. to children entering the foster care system. For this growth and maintaining our responsibilities in Nicaragua to be possible, we knew we’d have to secure consistent funding to ensure Lázaro Project would be able to provide a sustainable impact. We moved in the direction of tacos because in Denver we’re seeing an explosion of new restaurants, especially taco trucks, and we felt the timing of summer would be a perfect combination.
Why does the market needs this?
First, I think anytime you can bring cause-based products to a market, it’s a big win. Also, I would like to believe and hope there’s always space in the marketplace for a project like this. It’s not focused on personal enrichment, but rather providing essential resources to people in our community. Combating hunger and food insecurity through the incredible work of the Food Bank of the Rockies, supplying educational/food provisions to at-risk youth by way of the Lázaro Project, and imperative advocating for immigrants via the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. Our hope is that The Taco Passport will be used as a simple and effective tool for people to support principled charities and a ton of great locally owned small-businesses; while enjoying the added advantage of free tacos.
Describe for me the history of Passports in this vein and what it takes to be successful with such a platform?
Growing up in Colorado, we used to sell coupon books for school and sport team fundraisers. Now we see a variety of these coupon books in Denver. We were inspired by our childhood to make the Taco Passport an opportunity for Denver residents to make a direct impact in our own community simply by purchasing our product. We believe that designing an amazing product, where all proceeds go to charity, is one of the reasons we will be successful in our venture. And of course, our team is working our hardest to meet the high expectations we have as consumers: For example, great deals, trendy and fun design and the opportunity for not just one, but twenty new experiences that are simultaneously supporting the local businesses in our community.
What did you need to launch this business?
A lot of sweat equity and a ton of meetings with restaurants. It’s always touch and go when you’re trying to go out and pitch a project [and] it is still in its infancy. Restaurant owners are extremely busy people as well, so it can take a lot of calls and emails to even get that first appointment set. Both Rayme [Rossello], the owner of Comida, and Kevin [Morrison], the owner of Tacos Tequila Whiskey, were huge in the fact that they immediately saw the value in it and jumped on board from the start. That helped a ton to pave the way. Lauren Roberts of Roberts Law LLC gave us phenomenal advice in putting everything together from a legal stand point and we also have a great designer Kelsey Fagan who is putting a bow on everything. Everyone we’ve talked to and who has helped out has been extremely supportive.
Would you describe this as a passion project – Why?
Absolutely a passion project. The goal is to create something that can be utilized every year to not only raise money for local charities that need it the most, but also seamlessly increase the customer base for local businesses. Another factor that we are excited about is that the donors (anyone who buys the Passport) actually receives something fun and tangible in return. I think a big problem that charities can face is having to get people excited to donate to their cause without the donor receiving a tangible reward and something like a Taco Passport is a great way to solve that issue.
Is this your full-time professional commitment now?
It is not. I work on The Taco Passport before work, at lunch and at night as a member of Lázaro Project’s Board of Directors. The great thing about the way we modeled this fundraiser is that once it is launched it can run pretty lean. That’s how we’re able to keep our commitment of the proceeds going to the charities since our costs are so low.
How does the passport make revenue?
We sell the Taco Passport for $20 each. It’s 100 percent free for the restaurants and charities to participate. Our commitment is that at least $15 from each Passport sale is evenly divided among the participating charities. We have allotted $5 from each sale to production and operation cost however if we find out over-time that costs are more minimal than expected we’ll of course increase our allotment to the charities, because our ultimate goal is to raise funds for these incredible causes.
Where are you at now in the process of building up the brand and business of the Taco Passport?
It’s a never-ending process. So far pre-orders have been strong, but I think time will tell in regard to our ability to get the word out and build hype on a limited budget. Since we aren’t taking any money for the project we will have to get creative.
What are next steps?
This year we will ramp up marketing and public awareness. We’re also going to enjoy gathering at these great spots to enjoy tacos with our community members who’ve decided to support these worthy charities and local businesses. At years end we look forward to expanded partnerships and we’ll take a look back and see where we can improve on the product and concept for next year. Luckily the biggest hurdles are out of the way.
What does success look like for you and the Taco Passport?
I’m very thankful for the success we’re already seeing. Everyone has been really receptive to the concept and with extremely limited marketing thus far preorders have been absolutely phenomenal. We’d like to sell enough passports where both the charities and the restaurants notice a difference. Ideally, we want the Taco Passport to be a tool that helps local nonprofits raise funds so that they’re better equipped to have a positive impact on our community. The beauty of this type of business model is that we can do that while operating extremely lean and still deliver a great product year after year.