Tavistock Restaurant Group recently announced its plans to open 16 new Freebirds World Burrito locations in California this year.

After creating its original restaurant in Isla Vista in 1987, the Freebirds chain expanded to over 40 locations in Texas and Oklahoma over the years and expects to operate out of more than 80 sites by the end of 2011. The newest eatery will open on Jan. 13 across from the University of Southern California campus in a new graduate housing building.

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Freebirds employees help prepare the food that is considered a staple of college life. The franchise hopes to expand their venue by opening new locations and adding menu items like Mexican coffee and the Freedom Salad.

Jeff Carl, Tavistock chief marketing officer, said the restaurant’s menu has evolved since its move to Texas and will feature new items to accommodate the Southern California crowd.

“There will still be the very popular Freedom Salads — something not present in the Isla Vista location,” Carl said. “We plan to add cilantro lime rice and crispy fish that you can put in tacos and burritos. We’re also adding breakfast burritos that can have steak, bacon or chorizo to go with the base of eggs and potatoes. We’re also adding new beverages: a Mexican coffee and an iced horchata.”

Co-founders Mark Orfalea and Pierre Dube first pioneered the idea of the Mexican food assembly line at the Isla Vista location nearly 30 years ago. Since then, Orfalea has managed to successfully run and maintain the popular Mexican hotspot, while Dube decided to take the concept to Texas.

“The birthplace of Freebirds is Isla Vista,” Carl said. “Freebirds is Mark’s passion. He is the food god behind Freebirds. Our signature at the Texas locations is a Statue of Liberty called Libby that rides a motorcycle crashing through a wall, inspired by Mark when he put that Harley coming through the wall at the original location.”

News of the latest Freebirds location came as a surprise to many Isla Vista residents, many of whom believed the restaurant was unique to Isla Vista.

“To be honest, I’d never heard of the other Freebirds,” Amy Montemayor, a third-year psychology major, said. “But now that I know there’s one opening near USC, I definitely want to visit to see how it compares to the original. It’ll be interesting to see how different Freebirds became when it moved to Texas and to compare the food and atmosphere in a different college town.”

Carl said the entire Freebirds team is looking forward to launching its new locations.

“We’re having something of an opening party on Wednesday before the opening,” Carl said. “The weekend after … we’ve designated our alumni week so we expect a lot of former students to come and relive their Freebirds experiences. There are patio tables at the USC location so people can eat outside as well.”

In addition to the 13 locations in the works in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego, Carl said the company will also open a Freebirds in Orange and Marina del Rey.
Since its foundation, Freebirds has provided “an awe-inspiring experience with each customized burrito. Known for fresh food, rock ‘n roll, foil art, murals and motorcycles,” Freebirds has obtained a considerable following from college students in both California and Texas for over 20 years, according to its website.

Additionally, Carl said customers are most attracted to the freedom of choice offered by the eatery.

“You get to have your food the way you want it,” Carl said. “We take pride in our one-on-one service. A roller stays with you through the whole food-making process. It’s a very guest-driven experience and something of a nod to our hippy forefathers. We really rock it out in the restaurants with the late ’60s and early ’70s music and feel.”