Ryan Funke owns burger joints, a bar, a doughnut shop and a catering company.

So when he was looking to diversify further, of course it made sense to add Mexican food to the mix.

Funke acquired the Nebraska franchise rights to Salsarita's Fresh Mexican Grill, a fast-casual Mexican food chain, and opened his first location in the Wilderness Hills shopping center near 27th Street and Yankee Hill Road in February.

He describes the chain as similar to Chipotle or Qdoba but with more variety. It advertises five house-made salsas, custom burritos, tacos, nachos and fresh salads along with an extensive selection of meats, toppings and fillings.

Funke, who owns three Five Guys Burgers & Fries restaurants in Lincoln and three more in Omaha said that while burger chain is a "really good brand," Five Guys restaurants don't have drive-throughs and they don't lend themselves to catering opportunities.

Salsarita's didn't do drive-throughs, either, until Funke came along. His restaurant is the first Salsarita's with a drive-through, he said.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based chain, which has most of its locations in the South and on the East Coast, wasn't on Funke's radar until a couple of years ago, when his silent partner mentioned he had a contact in Mississippi who was a franchisee.

“I was so curious that I went to visit restaurant industry legend Phil Friedman, CEO of Salsarita’s Fresh Mexican Grill in the fall of 2015," Funke said. "I then signed on to be a multi-unit owner because I really like Phil; he is such a pro and I wanted to be in business with him.”

Friedman, who led an ownership group that bought Salsarita's in 2011, is a longtime food industry veteran whose background includes stints as CEO of McAlister's Deli and president of Panda Express.

“We’re thrilled to have Ryan as our newest multi-unit partner,” Friedman said in a news release.

Funke's franchise agreement gives him the rights to open five Salsarita's in Nebraska, and he said he already has signed a lease for a second location in Omaha in a former Taco John's near 72nd and Dodge streets.

"It's a hopping area with UNO there and the Aksarben (Village)," he said. "We're excited about that."

Funke said his plans definitely include a second location in Lincoln, and though he does not have a location picked out yet, he said it's likely to be either in east Lincoln or in the north part of town.

He said he chose the far-south location for the first Salsarita's largely because of a local real estate connection.

Brett West was working for WRK LLC, one of the developers of the Railyard near Pinnacle Bank Arena, when Funke opened Gate 25 there in 2013. West now works for Ameritas Life Insurance Co., which is one of the companies involved in developing Wilderness Hills.

"It was a little bit of a leap of faith on both our parts," he said.

But Funke said he's been happy with the results, and the Lincoln Salsarita's has been near the top of all the chain's locations in terms of financial performance over the past month.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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