WHY I BOUGHT
10 Years In, Franchisee Tommy Geary Still Eats at California Tortilla Every Day
The Maryland-based owner plans to grow to five to 10 total locations with the brand in the coming years.
Tommy Geary has lived in Maryland since he was the first grade. He played rugby and majored in business management at Mount St. Mary’s University, just 30 miles down the freeway from Mt. Airy—the town where he came to own his first California Tortilla franchise.
Geary kicked off his restaurant career at the age of 16 as a busser and server at a local pizza joint. In his final year of college, Geary landed an internship that gave him the opportunity to see every side of the restaurant business at The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille.
“I did service, managing, bartending and shadowed the general manager,” said Geary. “That’s how I got my start.”
Upon graduation, a 22-year-old Geary began managing the restaurant. “A bar atmosphere is sometimes fun, and sometimes the worst,” he noted. “The long hours are something I realized I wanted to avoid down the line.”
During his tenure at The Greene Turtle, Geary gained development experience helping open two new locations for the chain. It was also during this period that he found an opportunity to take his restaurant career to the next level with California Tortilla.
“The guy I was working for constructed the building and opened the Mt. Airy California Tortilla location,” said Geary. “Six months in, he decided to sell because he wanted to focus on property development.”
In January 2009, Geary purchased the location and became a franchisee for the first time. As a culmination of his education and experience in the restaurant industry, it was a great fit.
“I like the ownership aspect because I can better determine my own hours,” said Geary. “I also love the nature of California Tortilla. It’s a fast-casual restaurant that has a family-friendly atmosphere. It’s also not huge, so you don’t have a ton of employees to deal with, but you can still be busy and make great money doing it.”
The menu is also a breath of fresh air for Geary. “California Tortilla is one of the healthiest places in town,” he said. “The only thing California Tortilla doesn’t do is freeze or microwave. That is one of the biggest things for me—how fresh everything really is.”
In fact, you’ll never see a freezer in a California Tortilla restaurant. Instead, produce is delivered to each of the brand’s 40-plus locations several times a week. The franchise’s extensive menu is chef-inspired, pulling inspiration from the global community for both menu staples and exciting rotating options.
“I have gotten tired of the food at every restaurant I’ve worked in after about a year,” said Geary. “But 10 years later, I still eat lunch or dinner at California Tortilla basically every day.”
In February 2019, Geary acquired a corporate-owned location in Frederick, a town 20 minutes from Mt. Airy. “I was keeping an eye on it because I knew that if I wanted another location, I should take a serious look at Frederick since it was so close,” he said. “There are a lot of people who live and work in that market, so it was a great opportunity for me.”
Geary aspires to one day own five to 10 stores that are expertly managed so that he can cut back on day-to-day duties and focus on higher-level strategies. And eventually, he’ll be able to spend even more time doing what he loves most—hunting, fishing and enjoying the outdoors as much as possible.
“There’s nothing I would do other than California Tortilla,” he said. “This is where I'll be until I retire."