Colin Kelly

Colin Kelly is a UD alumnus and student athlete who owns and operates a Qdoba Mexican Grill Franchise in Virginia Beach, VA. A Virginia native, Kelly visited University of Delaware to meet with the lacrosse coach and instantly fell in love with the friendly atmosphere and beautiful campus. Because state Virginia schools did not offer his desired program of study, Kelly attended UD with in-state tuition benefits, and declared a leadership and consumer economics major.

After an unfortunate shoulder injury brought Kelly’s lacrosse career to a halt, he began to attend regular physical therapy sessions in Philadelphia. It was during one of these visits that Kelly had his first Qdoba experience.

QdobaQdoba Mexican Grill is the second-largest fast casual Mexican food chain in the country. It offers fresh, delicious cuisine at a low price and with all the convenience of a fast food establishment. With its raw, whole ingredients and meals that are always fresh off the grill, Qdoba is extraordinarily successful and has over 700 locations nationwide. With the money he saved by paying in-state tuition to UD, Kelly was able to open Virginia Beach’s first Qdoba franchise.

Kelly decided to pursue a career in the restaurant business because of the endless opportunities that the food and dining industry provides. Whether it is commercial estate, accounting, advertising, marketing, cooking, or architecture, there are virtually no career paths that one cannot take as a restaurant owner. Kelly was attracted to this versatility. After tasting delicious food and experiencing the professional atmosphere Qdoba had to offer, Kelly decided to open his own franchise in Virginia Beach. His proposal was not met with optimism right away, as building a restaurant from scratch is an enormous financial risk. However, Kelly overcame the skeptics and flew out to Qdoba headquarters in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

Kelly’s first responsibilities included finding an ideal location and both hiring and training his staff. He had invaluable help from his family. Kelly’s father guides him and provides management advice, while his mother agreed to handle the accounting aspect of the business. After an extensive general manager training course, cooking course, and safety standards training, Kelly found the perfect location and the construction phase began. On October 16, 2006, Kelly successfully opened the first Qdoba restaurant in Virginia Beach.

The restaurant was an instant success. Kelly found himself both proud of and overwhelmed by his accomplishment, which boasted lines out the door on a regular basis. It wasn’t long before he was opening a second restaurant in the Hampton Roads area, followed shortly by a third. He has creative control of his establishments, and has therefore thought up several marketing techniques, such as “military Monday” discounts, to further attract customers. Kelly’s franchise also participates in the annual JT Walk, a Virginia Beach walk-a-thon that raises money for the ALS Foundation. Last year, Kelly’s Qdoba restaurants fed over 5,000 walkers on the Virginia Beach waterfront, and helped raise over $2 million for ALS research.

Kelly attributes his success to equal parts opportunity and hard work. After all, had he not injured himself in lacrosse, he never would have stumbled into a Qdoba restaurant in Philadelphia, and may have never discovered his delicious career in restaurant management. However, Kelly took an enormous leap of faith when he had the idea to run his own restaurant. He overcame doubt and skepticism and flew to Qdoba headquarters on his own to receive the guidance he needed to open the franchise. During the recession in 2008, Kelly’s restaurants saw a noticeable drop in profits, and he was forced to make cuts and be prudent with his creative choices. Kelly has overcome all of these obstacles and more to see his goals through to the end.Qdoba Inside

Thus, with the help and support of his family, a positive attitude, and a great deal of perseverance, Kelly has certainly found a way to have his guacamole and eat it, too.


by Lucy Font
Interviewed by Ryan Drummond

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