5260 Peachtree Industrial Blvd., Norcross
Owner: Will Turner
Open Since: Nov. 1
Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Location: Off of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Medlock Bridge Road next to Comfort Inn and Suites
Atmosphere: Will Turner has worked hard to transform his used-to-be-Quiznos location into a place where his customers can feel at home.
“One of my biggest challenges was (the atmosphere),” Turner said. “What kind of experience were people going to have when they came into The Blaxican? … We wanted it to be a place where people can sit down, eat their food and go back to work or go back home and feel like they almost never left home.
“We have a couple of TVs up, but it’s not a sports bar. We run news and sports on the TVs because that’s basically what people watch at home.”
Turner said he has accomplished the type of setting he set out for, and that’s what sets The Blaxican apart from other fast-casual restaurants.
“(Some other fast-casual restaurants make) you feel like you need to leave quickly,” Turner said. “… I’ve seen people in here who have finished their food, and they’re just sitting there talking, 20, 30 minutes after they finished their food.”
The walls of The Blaxican are adorned with red, white and green paint (the colors of the Mexican flag), and pictures are hanging of Turner’s and the restaurant’s accomplishments. One such photo is a collage Turner made of photos taken by his restaurant family (which he calls his Blaxifam) and fans and followers (which he calls his Blaxifans). One may even be able to spot Robert Downey Jr., from when The Blaxican food truck catered to the set of one of “The Avengers” movies.
Turner also has a timeline of The Blaxican, from the food truck to the restaurant, including him being featured on CNN’s docu-series “Making it in America.”
Turner became a self-made chef at the age of 16 when he spent some time in juvenile detention. He found a passion for cooking and four years later was able to open his own sandwich shop.
After moving to Atlanta a few years later, he put the idea of owning his restaurant on the back burner.
Turner wanted to be in the restaurant business but was concerned with the stress that comes with owning a restaurant.
Turner said he then started working at a large church as a marketing director. He said he never let go of wanting a restaurant, but he had a stable, safe job. Then in 2010, the stability was gone when he got laid off.
“When Jesus lays you off, you’ve been laid off,” Turner said with a laugh. “They say, ‘God send me a sign.’ … You don’t need more signs than that.
“At that point I started full-steam ahead on this food truck idea I had.”
Turner did research on food trucks from 2008-10 but could never find the right time to launch one until he got laid off. The idea to fuse Mexican and soul food came easy to Turner.
“(I learned) you had to have the right concept,” Turner said. “It was all about the food concept you choose and a great marketing name. … The trucks that had success in L.A. and Miami (catered) to the demographic of that city.
“It just so happened that here in Atlanta, Mexican food is probably the most popular food. … And this being the home of soul food, it just made sense that we’re here in the South, I got to do something with some soul food.”
Thus, The Blaxican was born.
Turner quickly found success and gained a following with the truck.
“It felt like the natural maturation process was to go into the brick-and-mortar business,” Turner said.
Menu: Since Turner started off on a food truck, he couldn’t have as many recipes as he would have liked to have had.
“I cut 30-some odd recipes I had down to eight,” Turner said. “And those eight items are still on the menu here (at the restaurant).”
Those eight items, Turner said, came from the soul food of the American south as well as Mexico. Turner wanted to bring the best “working man’s food” from both cultures together.
“It’s ironic that the food that tastes the best is the food that the poor people make,” Turner said. “So I decided I was going to take some soulful meats and put them in tacos.”
One such creation is the smoked sausage taco, which is kielbasa sausage, cooked with bell peppers and onions. But Turner knew he had to have more menu items that were “mash-ups.”
Turner said one of the best-selling items is the Mexy mac and cheese. It is home style mac and cheese that is cooked with cumin, cotija cheese from Mexico and jalapenos — without the seeds and membranes — so it has all of the flavor “without the fire.”
The other mash-up that Turner said “I can’t keep in here” because it sells so quickly is the collard green quesadilla. That is made with Turner’s grandmother’s collard green recipe and put inside a tortilla with different kinds of cheese.
“The people absolutely love it,” Turner said.
Turner also puts an emphasis on health because of health concerns within the black community of high blood pressure and obesity, Turner said.
“None of the food we sell here is fried; everything is grilled,” Turner said.
Turner also said his food is as fresh as can be.
“Our food is cooked daily — hourly,” Turner said. “So it’s not sitting for hours upon hours. It’s not being reheated constantly in a microwave.”
Something you might not know: Five of Turner’s seven employees are either in culinary school or graduated from culinary school. It is something Turner prides himself on.
One is attending Kennesaw State, two are attending The Art Institute, one is a graduate of Le Cordan Bleu and one is an Art Institute graduate.
“We got cooks here, man; they are in this to win it,” Turner said. “They are given the opportunity to create here.”
Turner said his menu is growing, and if one of his employees has a creation he or she wants on the menu, the others will taste test it to see if it fits the bill.
“They are a little shy because I told them we all have to taste it,” Turner said.