by Aaron Burns

CORNELIUS – Kevin Kunz called North Carolina’s fast-food burrito market “pretty un-penetrated.”

He and business partner T.J. Jones will soon add to the Lake Norman market with Hot Head Burritos in Cornelius. The restaurant should open in mid-December.

It’s the first Hot Head Burrito restaurant in North Carolina and one of only four Hot Heads – Johnson City, Tenn., Florence, Ky., and Ft. Wright, Ky., are home to the others – in the Southeast.

So, why Cornelius over Charlotte, Raleigh or Winston-Salem?

“I have a home in Davidson and T.J. and his wife Jenny live in Cornelius,” Kunz said. “When we decided to get a franchise, we started digging deeper and we realized Cornelius is a good spot.”

Jones said Hot Head Burritos founder Ray Wiley supported the group’s goal of expanding the company, which was founded in 2007 and hopes to have 47 stores by the end of the year.

“The Cornelius restaurant will be at 20609 Torrence Chapel Road, next to Honey Baked Ham.

“It’s going to be something new to try,” Kunz said. “Everyone I’ve spoken with in the area has been excited about our opening.”

Hot Head offers burritos, bowls, tacos, quesadillas and nachos. Meats include mild or spicy chicken, steak, pork, beef and barbacoa. Several burrito meals cost less than $6, but the price is only one aspect of the company’s model, Kunz said.

“At some places, you can place an order and it’ll be good one time, but the tomatoes might be soggy or the bread won’t be good the next time.” Kunz said. “What drew us to this franchise was the food and service is consistent each time, and the 12 sauces we offer are all great.”

Jones said the company plans to employ 25-30 people when it opens, with the goal being 20-25 full-time employees once it’s gotten through what he called the “attrition” period.

“Some people might leave or we might need a certain amount to deal with demand. You never know at the beginning,” Jones said.

That statement especially rings true with the pair’s restaurant experience – or lack of experience.

Kunz and Jones have never operated a restaurant before, but credit the system Wiley’s company employs to give operators the confidence and support to run their operations successfully.  Jenny and T.J. Jones will handle Hot Head’s day-to-day management.

“(Wiley) doesn’t give the keys to the kingdom to just anyone who writes a check,” Jones said. “We had to be ready and prepared, and we were. We’re ready to get going.”

The first store is the just the beginning for the new owners.

“Our goal is to be multi-store (in the area),” Jones said. “We want to make that happen at some point.”