Local Obituaries

Founder of Wichita’s Taco Grande chain dies

Michael “Mike” Foley, the founder of Taco Grande, died in May at age 85.
Michael “Mike” Foley, the founder of Taco Grande, died in May at age 85. Courtesy photo

For years, Wichitans who had the munchies often headed for Taco Grande.

Taco Grande was the inspiration of Michael “Mike” Foley, who, friends and family members say, introduced the concept of fast-food tacos to the Midwest.

Mr. Foley, 85, died May 26 in La Quinta, Calif.

A rosary is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, 124 N. Roosevelt in Wichita. A funeral Mass will begin at 7 p.m.

Mr. Foley was born on April 11, 1932, in Wichita and grew up in the College Hill neighborhood.

His father, Richard, was a geologist and worked full time for Sinclair Oil during the Great Depression, discovering oil in Venezuela.

Mr. Foley was a graduate of St. Mary’s High School, St. John’s Military Academy and Wichita State University. He also served as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

Following his honorable discharge in the late 1950s, Mr. Foley went to live in the San Diego area – and that’s where the idea of selling tacos came to him.

“He saw a guy on the beach that made tacos and befriended him and told him he liked his tacos,” said his daughter Liz Foley Benson. “He had never had one. It was a new concept. There were none in the Midwest.”

And that’s when Mr. Foley called his father, asking for a loan.

“He told Grandfather he was going to come home and start a taco business,” Foley Benson said. “He said he needed $1,000 to do that.

“My grandfather said, ‘What’s a taco? And no, I’m not going to give you $1,000.’ ”

According to Foley family history, that’s when Mr. Foley’s mother, Helen, cashed in her life insurance policy.

“She gave him the money to do it,” Foley Benson said.

The first Taco Grande opened in 1960 at 857 S. Oliver. It expanded, and soon there were franchises across the nation.

“Within the first week he was open, he made $1,000 and paid Grandmother back,” Foley Benson said. “My grandparents were thrilled. My grandfather was so proud of him.”

Mr. Foley was a cousin of Dan and Robin Foley, who founded Taco Tico in Wichita in 1962.

Mr. Foley may have been inspired by the concept of fast food by his College Hill neighbors, Dan and Frank Carney, who opened the first Pizza Hut in Wichita in 1958.

“They lived across the park from each other,” Foley Benson said.

“They would test different kinds of pizza by bringing pizza over to my parents’ house and other people in the neighborhood.”

Mr. Foley retired at age 50 in 1982 after selling his stores and moving to La Quinta. For a brief time, he also owned Nu-Way stores and some Yankee Clipper seafood restaurants.

He was a Golden Gloves boxing champion, his family said, and threw the javelin while at WSU. He also was a serious golfer, sometimes playing rounds with Lee Trevino, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicholson.

“When I was a little girl, we would go places, and I thought my dad was seriously famous,” Foley Benson said. “He knew everybody in town, and everyone knew him.”

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made to the Wichita Junior Golf Foundation, 58 E. Via Verde St., Wichita, KS 67230, or to the Kapaun Mount Carmel High School Athletic Department, 8506 E. Central, Wichita, KS 67206.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner