Springfield, MO

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A Conversation With … Michael Felts

Owner of Taco Habitat LLC

Posted online

How did the idea for Taco Habitat develop?
I saw an article on Facebook about a turtle getting a straw stuck in his nose, and I was thinking, “It’s terrible what we’re doing to the environment.” At the time, I was invested in BYOPizza. I started thinking about redeveloping the whole brand to be more environmentally friendly and then I came back and found that, whatever happened, we weren’t involved in BYOP anymore. So I started developing Taco Habitat, and it was based around that straw idea. It took about three years to develop everything from our paper goods, straws, containers … the building, tables, chairs, flooring – everything.

What were the circumstances around you exiting BYOP?
We went to a board meeting, and Ryan O’Reilly decided he didn’t want partners anymore. We tried to find attorneys, and everyone had a conflict of interest. That didn’t really go the best.

The building concept of Taco Habitat is very unique, as you are constructing the structure off-site in North Carolina and having it delivered here. How did you arrive at that idea?
I started researching recyclable products we could use and [shipping] containers popped up in my head. I stumbled on a company in North Carolina that specializes in that, Boxman Studios. They take down containers, cut them up, build a new frame and put the metal back on.

Currently, you have two Taco Habitat stores planned – downtown Branson and in Glenstone Marketplace in Springfield. Which will open first?
Branson is definitely happening, but it might not be the first one. We’re shooting for the first of July.

In Springfield, that lot already has civil engineering, and all we need is the foundation. So it might be quicker. The building will be ready in about 45-60 more days. It takes 24-28 hours to install in the property.

Have you hired any employees yet?
We just hired our first general manager for the Branson location – or Springfield. Whatever happens first.

It seems unique that a startup already would be planning two locations. What is empowering you?
Lack of fear, I guess. The startup cost is quite substantial. For the Branson one, it’s about $1.5 million for just the building. The Springfield location will go down because of the engineering fees. Once we have a cookie-cutter done, then it drastically reduces everything. It’ll probably drop down to $1.2 million.

You also previously mentioned a third location. What’s that?
It’s next to the one in Branson. It’s a similar concept but not tacos. It’s a surprise.

What did your experience with BYOP teach you in preparation for starting Taco Habitat?
You definitely have to think long and hard before you do it, and do a lot of research. It’s not all about having a good idea. I’m a songwriter and scriptwriter. I didn’t know food costs or food management.

What would you say to someone who’s not a numbers person but wants to start a business? How did you make that transition?
I hired consultants. You definitely need to surround yourself with people who know what they’re doing. Also, you don’t want to select a location because it’s cheap. There’s a reason why properties cost the way they do.

Michael Felts can be reached at


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