Taco Chain Saying <i> Adios</i> to Mascot ‘Senor Naugles’

Times Staff Writer

Senor Naugles has peddled his last taco. Not to mention burrito, tostada and fajitas.

Orange-based Naugles next month will say adios to the serape and sombrero-clad huckster who pushes the fast-food chain’s wares in television commercials.

The fictional character has received his walking papers, partly to spice up lukewarm sales and partly to soothe complaints from two ethnic groups that Senor Naugles--who was portrayed by two Jewish actors--was demeaning to Mexican-Americans.


Earlier this year, both the Los Angeles chapter of the Hispanic Academy of Media Arts and Sciences and the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations put Naugles’ character on the grill because he allegedly perpetrated offensive stereotypes. Naugles officials denied that that was ever the company’s intent, but the complaints did make a difference.

“We already were evaluating (the effectiveness of) Senor Naugles,” said Dan DeMaio, vice president of marketing with Naugles, a wholly owned subsidiary of Collins Foods International. But “to have that kind of reaction coming out of the community is certainly not something that can be ignored.”

New Agency

On Monday, Naugles chose Dailey & Associates, a Los Angeles advertising agency, over incumbent DDB Needham West and two other contenders--Grey Advertising and Campbell & Wagman--for its latest $6-million to $8-million campaign. The new pitch will concentrate on the quality and good taste of Naugles’ products, DeMaio said.

Naugles, which has 171 restaurants in the West, is running third in California after rivals Taco Bell and Del Taco. By stressing the freshness and quality of its food, the company hopes to distinguish itself enough to overtake Del Taco and keep pace with Pepsico’s Taco Bell, industry observers said.

By disposing of its tongue-in-cheek mascot, Naugles is taking its first big step toward catching up in the fiercely competitive Mexican food market, said Barry Ziegler, a vice president in research with Tucker Anthony & Co. in New York.

Shoestring Campaign

The company, Ziegler noted, has already turned itself around. With Naugles suffering financially from too-rapid expansion during the early 1980s, Collins stepped in two years ago to revitalize the company.

With Naugles staggering under the weight of $45 million in losses in three years, Collins quickly sold about 60 unprofitable stores and, for the first time in the 15-year-old chain’s history, turned to radio and TV promotion with a $200,000 shoestring campaign.

Twenty months ago, that campaign brought in Senor Naugles, who appeared on TV telling viewers the Alamo began because there weren’t enough fajitas for Texans to share with the Mexican army.

For the fiscal year ended April 30, Naugles contributed $6.8 million to Collins’ $60.3 million in operating income.

Ziegler said Collins has a history of success with its subsidiaries. The Los Angeles-based company managed, for example, to transform its Sizzler restaurants from a mundane steak house chain to a successful steak, seafood and salad operation.