Taco John’s could open as many as seven restaurants to Columbus in the coming years.

The Wyoming-based quick service chain, which operates nearly 400 units nationwide, has finalized deals for a number of Central Ohio units and expects to open two or three in 2022.

“We’ve been successful in the Midwest,” said Brooks Speirs, vice president of development for Taco John’s. “We’re targeting Indianapolis, Illinois, Ohio.

“Columbus is an area with great demographics. You have Ohio State University. It’s very vibrant.”

Taco John’s, know both for its tacos and its Potato Olés side, has three restaurants in the state including one that’s operated in Athens for decades and a Circleville site that opened last year.

But it’s never been in Columbus.

Though Speirs couldn’t yet say where Taco John’s is going, he did say one place it is not going.

Taco John’s explored a co-branded unit with Cinnabon inside a Turkey Hill gas station and convenience store slated for Dublin. Though it is using such units to grow in other markets, it ultimately decided against doing that here in Central Ohio.

“The new prototype is doing great for us,” Speirs said. “That’s how we want to enter Columbus – with stand-alone stores.”

He said that design is more open and brighter than older units. It’s one of several factors driving what was a record sales year for the company in 2020.

Speirs also credited menu additions aimed to appeal more to women and Millennials, though the chain still is selling plenty of its hearty Six-Pack And a Pound meals.

The Covid-19 pandemic also has helped. While much of the restaurant industry has struggled in the past year, many quick service operators saw business increase as they already were well positioned to appeal to consumers seeking drive-thru, carryout and delivery options.

“We’ve been rocking and rolling in the last 18 months,” Speirs said. “That’s the power of the drive-thru.”

Drive-thru sales were 65% of the business pre-Covid. Now, it’s 90%.

Taco John’s is shopping for real estate in power centers, wanting to be near high-traffic anchors such as Home Depot, Target or Walmart and alongside other restaurants.

Speirs said the first units will be ground-up new builds, roughly 2,200 square feet each. He said he doesn’t anticipate taking over any vacated restaurant space, at least at first. That could be an option once the chain opens a few restaurants in the market, depending on the opportunities available.

Taco John’s is not the only fast feeder to set its sights on Central Ohio. California-based Del Taco has multiple Columbus-area units in the works. Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bonjangles just this week said a franchisee hopes to open as many as 15 restaurants in the market, which would be its first locations in Ohio.

For more business news, go to ColumbusBusinessFirst.com.