Freebirds World Burrito, Freebirds for short, is a regional chain of fast casual burrito restaurants founded in 1987 in Santa Barbara, California, USA. by Mark Orfalea. The restaurant chain expanded into Texas in 1990 under Orfalea's leadership. In 1994 Mark's college friend and manager of the Texas location, Pierre Dube, purchased control of the restaurant and gradually expanded the chain to span 19 restaurants in Texas. Orfalea retained ownership of the original California location and a license to continue using the name in California. The Texas Freebirds World Burrito chain, which was headquartered in College Station, was purchased by private-equity Tavistock Group in 2007. The chain, headquartered in the Tavistock Restaurants offices in Emeryville, California, has grown to over 60 locations in Texas, 5 locations in Utah and others scattered throughout the midwest states of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma.
The Freebirds concept was created by Mark Orfalea in 1987. Originally, Orfalea designed his restaurant around the roasted chicken concept similar to El Pollo Loco with the idea to deliver fresh food to UC Santa Barbara students in the famed Isla Vista, California. When, at the end of the day, he was left with unused chicken, his aunt suggested he marinate the chicken in BBQ sauce and use it to make burritos. Thus, the Freebird's Burrito was born.
The name Freebird's stemmed from one of Mark's deceased father's favorite songs, "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. As Mark's father also loved motorcycles (from his time riding them in the service in Europe during World War II), especially Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Mark paid tribute to his father again by placing the trademark "man on a motorcycle" crashing through the restaurant wall into the restaurants.
With the success of Freebirds in Isla Vista/UCSB, Mark set his sights on expansion, selecting, after a nationwide tour of college campuses, the Northgate District at the nearby Texas A&M University in College Station in 1991. In part, this decision was impacted by the large volume of beer sales at the nearby bar, The Dixie Chicken. At the time of expansion, the College Station Freebirds was being run by Bobby Parr as manager with the help of David Bomer and multiple other friends Mark had made during his time at UCSB. Pierre Dube was one of these friends. After graduation in 1987, Pierre had left UCSB to work for McDonald's Restaurant Corporation as an accountant. Around the time of Freebirds expansion into the Texas market in 1991, Pierre joined the Freebirds team, leaving McDonald's to manage Mark's restaurant in College Station. Thus Freebird's Monster Burritos and the SuperMonster, (or Forearm Burrito as it was called by another of the Freebirds CA employees) made its way into Texas.
With its fresh food, salsa, giant bbq chicken burritos, sky-themed ceilings and crazy motorcycle Statue of Liberty crashing through the restaurant wall, Mark invested heavily into the Texas market. However, it turned out owning two restaurants 1600 miles apart proved difficult. After several years of struggling in the Texas market and with the recession hitting California hard in the early 1990s, Mark offered to sell Pierre the Texas store. In part, this was as attempt to support Freebirds College Station during difficult financial times. As Pierre had elected to stay in Texas rather than to return to College Station to manage that Freebirds, Mark offered Pierre the option to buy into Freebirds Texas.
After the ownership transition and under Pierre's skilled leadership and operational skills, Freebird's Texas took the original Freebirds concept and duplicated its success within the favorable Texas business climate. While Orfalea retained ownership of Isla Vista and concentrated on refining the menu and cementing Freebird's as an Isla Vista landmark, Pierre was successful in expanding Mark's original concept into a successful 19 location multi-store chain throughout Texas. By 2007, the restaurant chain had 19 locations around Texas.
On July 25, 2007 Dube sold the chain to California-based Tavistock Group through its Tavistock Restaurants division. At the time of the sale, Tavistock stated that it would be opening an additional 40 Freebirds restaurants across the southwestern United States. In addition to adding more Texas locations, Tavistock expanded the restaurant chain into neighboring state Oklahoma with the opening of a location in Norman, Oklahoma in January 2008. As of April 2010, the chain has expanded to 31 locations, and stated that it would have 52 open by the end of 2010. In March 2015 the headquarters was relocated from Emeryville, California to Austin, Texas. The company will call its offices at the Great Hills Corporate Center in Northwest Austin its new headquarters.
Mark Orfalea remains the sole owner, creator and founder of the original Freebirds World Burrito located in Isla Vista, California, near the campus of UCSB.
Freebirds is a privately owned company, with all locations (except the original Freebird's in Isla Vista) owned by parent company Tavistock Group. The restaurant's primary offering is California-style Mission burritos, which customers order cafeteria-style allowing them to customize their meal by choosing burrito size and type of tortilla, then choosing its filling from a selection of meats, cheeses, beans, vegetables and sauces. Locations also generally offer customizable salads, tacos, quesadillas, nachos, and "burrito bowls" which are burritos without a tortilla. Side item offerings include chips, salsa, and queso.
Committed to operating in an environmentally conscious manner, the company stocks recycled paper products in its locations, and prints its menus on 100% recycled papers. They also encourage their guests to "recycle" their burritos foil wrappers by turning them into art work, which is then displayed in various Freebirds locations.