March 18, 2013

Duncan Turns Vision Into Reality By Launching Student Venture

Dennis Duncan, '13, is turning a vision into a reality as he prepares to launch Macho Taco, his student venture, for an eight-week run when Albion College students return from spring break.

A product of Detroit and Renaissance High School, Duncan keeps a hand-drawn picture of a Little Caesars Pizza outlet in a portfolio to remind him of the goal of purchasing his own franchise in the pizza chain someday. He intends for that franchise to eventually provide the start-up capital to launch his own restaurant chain. Duncan calls the opening of Macho Taco a milestone in reaching his career goal.

He says he hadn't considered creating a taqueria until he devised a restaurant plan for a student ventures competition sponsored by the Carl A. Gerstacker Institute for Business and Management.  "I've always had an entrepreneurial mindset," he said. "I had a gift to draw, and even when I was 8- and 9-years-old I would draw little cartoons and try to sell them at my church. I would sell candy at school or on the block.

"I always wanted to be my own boss," he added.

"Servicing Macho Taco teaches me how to be an owner, how to manage staff, income, and inventory," he continued. "It will teach me everything I need to know to manage a restaurant on my own so when I establish the net worth to buy a franchise, I will have an idea how to facilitate operations."

Duncan said the restaurant business is his passion because of food's role in bringing people together. It was that desire to unite people, to demonstrate his love to the community, and to fill a void for a restaurant serving tacos on campus that inspired him to continue to develop his business plan.

Research into the cost of food materials and labor necessitated several revisions of the plan before it was accepted. He credits the chefs from Bon Appetit, the company operating the college's dining and hospitality services and Duncan's partner in the venture, for answering the many questions he had along the way.

"There was a lot of late-night thinking and market research," Duncan said. "I had to pinpoint a pricing strategy that would make sense. Chef Jason at Bon Appetit became a mentor, and he taught me everything I needed to know. I sat in his office many workdays. The most important answer I received was the importance of having faith in your business. That was the key to going back to the drawing board.

"I think there will be a feeling of triumph (when I serve the first customer)," he added. "I took something that was a thought in my mind – that became a couple of paragraphs on a piece of paper – and made it a dream come true for myself. The taco I had imagined – the taste I could just about imagine into existence – and now it's something you can hold in your hand. That's a dream come true for any entrepreneur. Any vision you write out that you get to see with your own eyes is a triumph."

Duncan concluded by saying the student venture program is another example of how his Albion experience has given him more than he could have imagined coming out of high school.

"Albion piqued my interest academically and athletically," said Duncan, who earned a Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship ring as a running back with the football team in 2011. "I had no clue it would be that and some. The 'and some' is what surprised me most. Never would I have thought that as a freshman in college I would be serving at a paid internship for a Fortune 500 company. I never thought I would have opportunities to help in the community. I never thought I would be the voice of the student body as a student senator. I never thought that I would get to meet so many great people who are willing to help young people become successful."

Duncan said Macho Taco will be open Monday through Wednesday from 4-8 p.m. on the upper level of Baldwin Hall.