Spice it Up
Photographer / Kelli White
Celebrating 25 years of Tex-Mex cuisine, Tijuana Flats has come to Noblesville. The franchise has 120 locations around the country, but the only two in the Hoosier state are in Fishers – a staple for the past 16 years – and now Noblesville. Owner John Rowe calls his establishment the 3.0 version of the popular restaurant because of some fresh concepts and innovations in technology. Though he didn’t change the food, he modernized the menu with touchless digital menu boards that are bright and easy to read.
“Transitioning to digital menu boards gives us the opportunity to promote our features and specials,” says Rowe, who owns both Indiana locations with his wife Shannon. “It also lets us change our menu on the fly.”
As it turns out, Rowe and his team had to adapt in many ways when COVID-19 hit last spring. Their Fishers location transitioned to carry-out and delivery, as they took extra precautions to keep customers safe. They did so by delivering food directly to customers’ cars.
“It was old-school diner type stuff, and it was really well received,” says Rowe, who appreciated the way his Tijuana Flats fan base stepped up at the time and continued to order their favorite foods and drinks.
“Without our guests, we are nothing,” Rowe says. “We take care of them when we’re jamming, and they take care of us in times like this.”
With all hands on deck in Fishers, plans for the Noblesville location had to be temporarily put on hold. Now that the doors have opened, Christmas has come early for Noblesville residents. Noblesville is the only new location opening in 2020, and Rowe chose the area because he loves the community.
“People here are so great and down to earth,” Rowe says. “Customers were already driving all the way to Fishers for our food, and I wanted to bring something to this side of Noblesville that was hip and trendy.”
Tijuana Flats, known for its fun environment, quality food and friendly service, offers a diverse and fresh menu. They are especially known for their tacos, which are offered at affordable prices.
“We run Tijuana Tuesdaze, which is our take on Taco Tuesday where we sell two big tacos, chips and a drink for $6.49,” Rowe says.
The eatery also sells chimichangas and chicken tinga tacos, which have a bold and spicy flavor. The drink selection includes beer, wine, sangria and agave margaritas. Tijuana Flats has a diverse hot sauce bar that ranges in flavor from sweet all the way to “death wish.”
“You can hurt yourself all you want or you can sweet sauce it up,” Rowe says of the restaurant’s diverse hot sauce selection.
The Just In Queso Foundation was founded as a way to give back to communities and employees during times of need.
“We gather donations through various fundraisers, and for each bottle of our hot sauce we sell throughout the year, the proceeds go to the foundation,” Rowe says.
The restaurant also holds special events from time to time. For instance, during the grand opening, they offered a give-back promotion for which 20% of proceeds went to the Hamilton County Harvest Food Bank. During last month’s soft opening for friends and family, they had a “Paywhatyouwanna” event, as a play on “Tijuana,” and guests were asked to donate money that went directly to the Just In Queso Foundation.
According to Rowe, he and his staff participate in opportunities to give back to the local community regularly, as helping on a local level is important to him. For instance, during the holiday season he is selling a bottle of limited-edition habanero hot sauce and donating money from sales to various charities.
“We’ve done Homes for Heroes as well as multiple children’s charities,” Rowe says. “I work hard to keep those funds local. That’s one thing I’m big on.”
Every Tijuana Flats has its own wall mural, each designed to represent a particular region. The mural in Fishers revolves around race cars, and for Noblesville, Rowe asked the artist to paint lizards (the restaurant’s unofficial mascot) harvesting in a field with the Indianapolis skyline in the background.
“The lizards are harvesting hard-shell tacos instead of corn,” Rowe says of the mural. “Since every small town has a water tower, we made our water tower full of hot sauce.”